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    Defense attorney says ‘Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting’
    • July 10, 2024

    By MORGAN LEE and ANDREW DALTON

    SANTA FE, N.M. — A defense attorney told jurors Wednesday that the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was an “unspeakable tragedy” but that “ Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting.”

    Baldwin’s lawyer 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 on the set of the film “Rust,” where Hutchins was killed in October, 2021.

    “I don’t have to tell you any more about this, because you’ve all seen gunfights in movies,” Spiro said.

    Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson said in her opening statement that before the shooting, Baldwin skipped safety checks and recklessly handled a revolver.

    Actor Alec Baldwin, right, arrives for his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court with attorney Luke Nikas, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

    Actor Alec Baldwin arrives for his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court with attorney Luke Nikas, left, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

    Hilaria Baldwin listens during her husband actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin arrives in District Court for jury selection in his involuntary manslaughter trial, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales)

    Actor Stephen Baldwin listens during his brother Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin, right, arrives with his attorney Luke Nikas in District Court for jury selection in his involuntary manslaughter trial, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales)

    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, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin arrives in District Court for jury selection in his involuntary manslaughter trial, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales)

    Media members gather outside District Court as they await the arrival of Actor Alec Baldwin, for jury selection in his involuntary manslaughter trial, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales)

    CORRECTS DATE Attorney Gloria Allred holds a picture of Halyna Hutchins outside of District Court in which Alec Baldwin is facing involuntary manslaughter charge for her fatal shooting on the set of ‘Rust.’ Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. (AP Photo/Roberto E. Rosales)

    Prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson speaks during actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin listens during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey speaks during actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Stephen Baldwin and Hilaria Baldwin, wife of Alec Baldwin, listen during actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin, left, embraces his brother, actor Stephen Baldwin, during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin interacts with wife Hilaria Baldwin during a break in his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    A video scene showing Actor Alec Baldwin is viewed during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin speaks with sister Elizabeth Keuchler during a break in his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Attorney Luke Nikas, left, and actor Alec Baldwin listen during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Actor Alec Baldwin stands during a break in his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Law enforcement officer Nicholas LeFleur testifies during actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, Wednesday, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin is facing a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, Pool)

    Fred Hayes/Getty Images

    Halyna Hutchins, the cinematographer killed on a New Mexico movies set by a gun held by actor Alec Baldwin, is seen above attending the SAGindie Sundance Filmmakers Reception at Cafe Terigo on Jan. 28, 2019 in Park City, Utah. (File photo by Fred Hayes/Getty Images for SAGindie)

    FILE – This aerial photo shows the movie set of “Rust” at Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., on Saturday, Oct. 23, 2021. Prosecutors announced Thursday, Jan. 19, 2023 they are charging Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in fatal shooting of cinematographer on movie set. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

    FILE – Actor Alec Baldwin attends a news conference at United Nations headquarters, on Sept. 21, 2015. A Santa Fe district attorney is prepared to announce whether to press charges in the fatal 2021 film-set shooting of a cinematographer by actor Baldwin during a rehearsal on the set of the Western movie “Rust.” Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said a decision will be announced Thursday morning, Jan. 19, 2022, in a statement and on social media platforms. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

    Russ Backers, a stagehand and welder in IATSE Local 33, lays down his union pin for the late cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a candlelight vigil for her, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Burbank, Calif. A prop firearm discharged last Thursday by actor Alec Baldwin, while producing and starring in a Western movie in Santa Fe, N.M., killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

    A woman lays down a candle during a vigil for the late cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, seen in photographs at top right, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2021, in Burbank, Calif. A prop firearm discharged last Thursday by actor Alec Baldwin, while producing and starring in a Western movie in Santa Fe, N.M., killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)

    Alec Baldwin speaks on the phone in the parking lot outside the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office in Santa Fe, N.M., after he was questioned about a shooting on the set of the film “Rust” on the outskirts of Santa Fe, Thursday, Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin fired a prop gun on the set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, officials said. (Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

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    “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,” Johnson said.

    Spiro replied that “these cardinal rules, they’re not cardinal rules on a movie set.”

    “On a movie set, safety has to occur before a gun is placed 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 after the shooting. Video shown in the courtroom from the body camera of Nicholas LeFleur, then a Santa Fe county sheriff’s deputy, captured the frantic efforts to save Hutchins, who looked unconscious as several people attended to her and gave her an oxygen mask. In the courtroom, Baldwin looked at the screen somberly as it played.

    Later in the video, LeFleur can be seen telling Baldwin not to speak to the other potential witnesses, but Baldwin repeatedly does.

    When special prosecutor Kari Morrissey asked whether the sheriff’s deputy handled the situation ideally he responded, “Probably not. But it’s what happened.”

    Spiro pressed LeFleur on why he left the word “accidental” out of his description of the shooting call during his questioning by the prosecution. LeFleur said it was not intentional.

    Johnson in her opening walked the jurors through the events leading up to Hutchins death. She said on that day, Baldwin declined multiple opportunities for standard safety checks with armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed before the rehearsal in the small church about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the courthouse where Hutchins, “a vibrant 42-year-old rising star,” was killed. She said Baldwin instead “did his own thing.”

    “He cocks the hammer, points it straight at Miss Hutchins, and fires that gun, sending that live bullet right into Miss Hutchins body,” said Johnson, a relative newcomer to the case, appointed in late April by the Santa Fe district attorney’s office.

    During the presentation, Baldwin trained his eyes downward on a notepad, away from the jury. He watched Spiro intently during his opening. His wife Hilaria Baldwin and his brother, actor Stephen Baldwin, were among the family and friends sitting behind him.

    The 16 jurors — 11 women and five men — come from a region with strong currents of gun ownership and safety informed by backcountry hunting. Four of the jurors will be deemed alternates while the other 12 deliberate once they get the case.

    Hutchins’ death and the wounding of director Joel Souza nearly three years ago sent shock waves through the film industry and led to one felony charge against Baldwin, 66, that could result in up to 18 months in prison.

    “It killed an amazing person,” Spiro said. “It wounded another, and it changed lives forever.”

    Baldwin has claimed the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware that it was loaded with a live round, he said he pulled back the hammer — not the trigger — and it fired.

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

    But he said even if Baldwin had pulled it and was lying, Spiro said, it still would not have been manslaughter.

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

    The lawyer emphasized that the responsibility for safety lay with the film’s armorer, Gutierrez-Reed, who has already been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and assistant director David Halls, who pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon in exchange for his testimony at trial.

    Baldwin had been told “cold gun” before getting the revolver, not knowing there was a live round in it.

    “It had been checked and double checked by those responsible for ensuring the gun was safe,” Spiro said. “He did not tamper with it he did not load it himself. He did not leave it unattended.”

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

    Baldwin — the star of “Beetlejuice,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “30 Rock” — has been a household name as an actor and public personality for more than three decades.

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

    “No one could have imagined or expected an actor to do that,” the lawyer said.

    The ‘Rust’ shooting case

    Alec Baldwin shooting: ‘Rust’ gun supervisor gets 18 months in prison
    Alec Baldwin pleads not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charge
    Grand jury indicts Alec Baldwin in fatal shooting of cinematographer on movie set in New Mexico
    Alec Baldwin’s codefendant gets 6 months probation on gun charge
    Troubled Alec Baldwin movie ‘Rust’ looking near Palm Springs, Nevada border for new filming location

    Prosecutors have two alternative standards for proving the charge. One is based on the negligent use of a firearm. The other is proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin acted with total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.

    Testimony at trial will delve into the mechanics of the weapon and whether it could have fired without a trigger pull. Prosecutors say it couldn’t have.

    “That gun the defendant had asked to be assigned worked perfectly fine as it was designed,” Johnson said.

    Attorney Gloria Allred sat in the front row of the courtroom audience, a reminder of Baldwin’s other legal difficulties. Allred is representing “Rust” script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and Hutchins’ sister and parents in a civil lawsuit against Baldwin and other producers.

    Allred said that from her observations in court, the jury appeared to be riveted by testimony and evidence including the police lapel camera video.

    Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

    ​ Orange County Register 

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