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Prosecutor says star violated key gun safety rules in trial opening

A defense attorney told jurors the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was an “unspeakable tragedy” but “Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor acting.”

Baldwin’s attorney, Alex Spiro, emphasized in his opening statement in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtroom that Baldwin, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, did exactly what actors always do.

“I don’t have to tell you any more about this, because you’ve all seen gunfights in movies,” Spiro said on Wednesday morning (early Thursday AEST).

Actor Alec Baldwin listens during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson argued in her opening statement that Baldwin “violated cardinal rules of firearm safety” on the set of the film. Oxide in the moments before the shooting.

“The evidence will show that someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin,” said special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson.

Spiro responded that “these cardinal rules are not cardinal rules on a movie set.”

“The evidence will show that on a film set, security must be in place before putting a gun in an actor’s hand,” Spiro told the jury.

The first witness to take the stand was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Bonanza Creek Ranch on the day of the shooting. Video footage shown in the courtroom from the body camera of Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy Nicholas LeFleur captured the frantic efforts to save Hutchins.

He described a chaotic scene with more than 100 people present and said he called an emergency helicopter because “we were too far away for an ambulance.”

Halyna Hutchins and her husband Matt with their 9-year-old son.
Halyna Hutchins and her husband Matt with their nine-year-old son. (Instagram)

His submissive demeanor contrasted with the dramatic video clip on his lapel, which showed Hutchins lying unconscious as several people attended to her and fitted her with an oxygen mask. In the courtroom, Baldwin stared somberly at the screen as the video played.

Later in the video, LeFleur attempts to isolate Baldwin from other witnesses by having him get into a vehicle, but Baldwin asks to stay where he is outside near other crew members so he can smoke a cigarette, and LeFleur allows him to do so.

He tells Baldwin not to talk to the other potential witnesses, but Baldwin does so repeatedly.

“Was Mr. Baldwin supposed to speak about the incident?” special prosecutor Kari Morrissey asked.

Actor Alec Baldwin listens during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court on Wednesday. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

“No, ma’am,” LeFleur replied.

“Does it look like he’s doing it anyway?”

“Yes, ma’am,” LeFleur replied.

Asked if that was the ideal way to treat someone in Baldwin’s situation, he replied: “Probably not, but that’s what happened.”

Johnson emphasized in his introduction that the set was a workplace, where innocent people had the expectation of safety that Baldwin and others denied them.

“The evidence will show that, as in many workplaces, there are people who act recklessly and put other people in danger,” Johnson said.

“That, as you will hear, is the accused.”

Prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson speaks during actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District Court. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

Johnson explained to jurors the events leading up to the shooting on October 21, 2021.

She said that on that day, Baldwin refused multiple opportunities for standard pre-rehearsal safety checks and instead “did his thing” with the revolver at the rehearsal where Hutchins was killed.

“He cocks the hammer, aims directly at Ms. Hutchins and fires the gun, sending the live bullet directly into Ms. Hutchins’ body,” Johnson said.

Johnson is a relative newcomer to the case, having been appointed in late April by the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office.

Halyna Hutchins
Halyna Hutchins served as the film’s director of photography. (Instagram)

The trial will delve into the intersection of gun safety, high-profile celebrity and a low-budget Western set on a remote ranch.

The 16 jurors (11 women and five men) come from a region with strong gun ownership and safety biases based on hunting in remote areas. Four of the jurors will be considered alternates, while the other 12 will deliberate once they receive the case.

The shooting death of cinematographer Hutchins nearly three years ago shocked the film industry and led to a felony charge against Baldwin that could result in up to 18 months in prison.

“He killed an incredible person,” Spiro said.

“He hurt another person and changed lives forever.”

Baldwin pleaded not guilty and walked into the courtroom with a disposable coffee cup in his hand. His wife, Hilaria Baldwin, and his brother, Stephen Baldwin, sat nearby in the audience, among family and friends of the defendant.

Actor Alec Baldwin interacts with his wife, Hilaria Baldwin, during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

He sat surrounded by his lawyers, dressed in a dark blue suit, in the courthouse in downtown Santa Fe, a short drive from the movie ranch where scenes from Oxide.

Baldwin claimed the gun accidentally went off after he followed instructions to point it at Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware it was loaded with live ammunition, he said he pulled the hammer, not the trigger, and it went off.

“No one saw him intentionally pull the trigger,” Spiro said.

But he said that even if Baldwin had done it and was lying, Spiro said, it still wouldn’t have been homicide.

“On a film set, you’re allowed to pull the trigger,” Spiro said, adding that “that doesn’t make it homicide.”

The lawyer stressed that responsibility for security falls on the film’s gunsmith, Gutierrez-Reed, who has already been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and assistant director David Halls, who pleaded guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon in exchange for his testimony at the trial.

Gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed. (AP Agency)

Baldwin had been told he had a “cold weapon” before he got the revolver, not knowing there was a live bullet in it.

“Those responsible for ensuring the gun was safe had checked and rechecked it,” Spiro said.

“He didn’t tamper with it, he didn’t carry it himself, he didn’t leave it unattended.”

In recent years, Spiro has become one of the most sought-after defense attorneys in the country. His clients include Elon Musk, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Megan Thee Stallion.

Prosecutors have said they will present evidence that Baldwin “went off script” and failed to follow basic industry standards for firearm safety when he pointed the gun at Hutchins.

Baldwin, the star of Beetle juice, Glengarry Glen Ross and 30 Rock, He has been a household name as an actor and public personality for over three decades.

Rust shots
The film set of Bonanza Creek Ranch, where Hutchins was murdered. (AP Agency)

Spiro said in concluding his opening remarks that witnesses will attest that “no actor in history” has “intercepted a live bullet from a prop gun.”

“No one could imagine or expect an actor to do that,” the lawyer said.

Prosecutors have two alternative criteria to prove the charge. One is based on negligent use of a firearm. The other is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin acted with complete disregard or indifference to the safety of others.

Testimony at the trial will focus on the mechanics of the gun and whether it could have been fired without pulling the trigger. Prosecutors say it could not have been done.

“That pistol that the defendant had requested to be issued to him functioned perfectly well as it was designed,” Johnson said.

“He pointed the gun at another human being, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger, in reckless disregard for the safety of My Hutchins.”

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