Baldwin Case Begins

Opening arguments focus on safety and foreseeability

Alec Baldwin Alec Baldwin—trailed by media—attends the first day of his "Rust" trial July 10 in Santa Fe. Photo by Adam Ferguson for SFR (Adam Ferguson)

On the first day of Rust star and producer Alec Baldwin’s criminal trial, attorneys disagreed on the foreseeability of danger and the responsibility of safety as they gave opening statements.

The actor faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in the Oct. 21, 2021 on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Baldwin was holding a Colt .45 revolver that discharged a live round and killed Hutchins, but he maintains he did not pull the trigger—a claim state prosecutors contest.

During opening statements, Special Prosecutor Erlinda Johnson told jurors Baldwin acted negligently with the gun and failed to perform necessary safety checks with former Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed on multiple occasions throughout filming. Just under three months ago, First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer gave Gutierrez-Reed the maximum sentence for her negligent behavior in the same incident, which the former armorer filed to appeal in early May.

Furthermore, the special prosecutor noted the actor requested “the biggest gun available,” which “worked perfectly fine” leading up to the fatal afternoon.

“When someone plays make believe with a real gun in a real-life workplace, people’s lives are in danger and someone could be killed. The evidence will show that the someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant Mr. Baldwin,” Johnson said. “The only true verdict that can serve justice in this case is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.”

In response, Baldwin defense attorney Alex Spiro told jurors that while the fatal shooting on set was “an unspeakable tragedy,” the actor “committed no crime” and was simply doing his job.

“On a movie set, safety has to occur before a gun is placed in an actor’s hands. The actor’s job is to act and to rehearse,” Spiro said. “He’s Harland Rust—he’s an outlaw. His mind is somewhere else in the being of another, a century away. He must be able to take that weapon and use it, to wave it and to point it in ways that would be lethal in the real world, but not lethal on a movie set.”

The defense added the gun had been checked and cleared that day by others and no one—especially Baldwin—could have foreseen live ammunition on set.

“‘Cold gun’ doesn’t mean no live bullets. There are 100% no live bullets on a movie set—that’s unimaginable. It means it’s empty, inert [and] cosmetic,” Spiro told jurors. “None of the evidence you’ll see speaks to whether Alec knew or should’ve known live ammunition was in there. He didn’t. Nobody did. It was not foreseeable. This was anything other than foreseeable.”

Following opening statements, the state called several former and current staff from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department as witnesses, who recounted the day of the shooting and the subsequent investigation.

Nicholas Lefleur, the first officer to respond on scene the day of the shooting, fielded questions from attorneys on officers’ handling of the call that day. He described an unprecedented situation for officers that made it difficult to separate witnesses.

“It was a big, old cowboy western-themed town, and there were a bunch of people running everywhere,” he told Special Prosecutor Kari Morrissey when asked why people were not separated. “There were more than 100 people there.”

He added that his first priority was to “make sure whoever needs help gets help” which added to the delay in rounding up those on set. Despite this, he says he told people—including Baldwin—to stop talking among themselves to avoid “tainting each other’s memories.”

The defense team scrutinized this claim during cross examination, with Spiro noting Lefleur never called out Baldwin when he spoke to others in lapel footage played during his testimony, which Lefleur acknowledged.

Baldwin remained stoic throughout the day, sporting glasses, a gray jacket and a pink shirt. If convicted, he faces up to 18 months in prison.

Watch the trial’s first day here.

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