Openings claim the film set was unsafe

Openings claim the film set was unsafe

Photo: Ross D. Franklin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

As opening statements were underway in Alec Baldwin’s manslaughter trial in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Rust During the shooting, the prosecution and defense presented conflicting accounts of the role of fantasy on the set. Prosecutor Erlinda Johnson alleged that Baldwin was “playing make-believe with a real gun and violating the cardinal rules of firearm safety,” leading to the accidental death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Lead defense attorney Alex Spiro relied on the fantasy of the movie to explain that the actor was not irresponsible, arguing that actors point guns at each other in movies and shows all the time—it was the bullet that shouldn’t have been there, not Baldwin’s behavior, that led to the death. “Alec Baldwin committed no crime. He was an actor playing the role of Harland Rust,” Spiro told jurors. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty.

In his opening statement, Johnson portrayed Baldwin, who starred in and produced the film, as a gun-toting horseman and suggested that the cast and crew faced constraints that increased the risk of injury on set. “Although this was a movie set, it was a real workplace for many people, but you will hear that this workplace was on a tight budget, and you will hear that some of the people hired to work at this workplace were very inexperienced and one of them was the gunsmith, a young woman named Hannah-Gutierrez Reed,” Johnson said, saying it was “obvious.”

Johnson testified that before arriving on set, Baldwin had asked to be given the largest gun available. Baldwin’s behavior suggested a lack of concentration. “The defendant had people filming him running around shooting this gun,” Johnson testified. In the days leading up to the fateful incident, Baldwin had handled the gun several times, even firing it, and the gun worked “perfectly well.”

“Every time the defendant handled this firearm, he failed to perform a safety check with this inexperienced gunsmith, and you will hear that the reason he did not perform a safety check was because he did not want to offend him,” Johnson said.

Baldwin is accused of accidentally killing Hutchins on October 21, 2021, while he was rehearsing a scene; he is accused of pointing the gun at her and pulling the trigger. Prosecutors have argued that gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed provided Baldwin with the gun, and that it was not properly checked to ensure it did not contain live ammunition. Director Joel Souza was also injured in the shooting. Gutierrez-Reed was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the March 6, 2024, incident. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison on April 15. David Halls—who pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon and received a six-month suspended sentence—testified at Gutierrez-Reed’s trial and claimed she gave Baldwin the gun. Baldwin insisted that Halls, who was in charge of security on the set, gave him the gun.

Johnson described Baldwin’s alleged behavior in the moments leading up to Hutchins’ death. Baldwin was told to “slowly pull that gun out and hold it at an angle.” But the footage will show Baldwin pulling the gun out “rapidly” and pointing it with his finger on the trigger. Then, Baldwin does it again. “The evidence will show that the third and fatal time, he pulls it out, again, rapidly, with the hammer cocked, points it directly at Ms. Hutchins and fires that gun, sending that live round directly into Ms. Hutchins’ body,” she said. “The defendant failed to do a safety check of the gun with this inexperienced gunsmith,” she added. “He pointed that gun at another human being, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger with a reckless disregard for Ms. Hutchins’ safety.”