Alec Baldwin ‘played pretend with real gun,’ Rust lawsuit alleges

By Christal Hayes, Samantha Granville and Emma Vardy, BBC News

Rust trial jury hears opening statements

Alec Baldwin’s trial opened Wednesday in New Mexico, with the prosecution and defense painting very different portraits of the events that led to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Mr Baldwin, known for his roles on the sitcom 30 Rock and his portrayal of Donald Trump on Saturday Night Live, faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted of involuntary manslaughter.

Ms Hutchins, 42, died after a shot was fired from the gun Mr Baldwin was rehearsing with. It was discovered that the film’s armourer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, had accidentally mixed up dummy bullets with live ammunition she had brought from home.

Mr. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and maintains he never pulled the trigger when the gun went off.

In their opening statements, the defense portrayed Mr. Baldwin as an actor simply doing his job, who placed his trust in a team charged with ensuring the safety of weapons.

Prosecutors argued that he was a man who showed a blatant disregard for gun safety on a movie set with a low budget and an inexperienced cast.

Prosecutor Erlinda Johnson opened the trial by telling the jury the case was “simple” and “straightforward.”

Mr. Baldwin “played pretend with a real gun” and “violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety,” Ms. Johnson argued.

“Although it was a film set, it was a real workplace for many people,” she said in her opening remarks. “You will hear that this workplace was on a tight budget … and that some of the people hired were inexperienced.”

Mr. Baldwin’s defense team, however, argued that firearms are treated differently on a film set, where each cast member has a designated role and obligation, including with respect to safety and firearms.

“He was just acting like he’s been doing for generations, and it was the security apparatus that let them all down,” Baldwin’s attorney, Alex Spiro, said.

“Alec Baldwin committed no crime,” he said firmly, later adding: “He was an actor manipulating a prop.”

The crew members responsible for safety – including Gutierrez-Reed and David Halls, assistant director and safety coordinator – failed in their jobs, he argued.

“Real bullets are never supposed to be on film sets,” Spiro said.

Halyna Hutchins, Getty Images Director of PhotographyGetty Images

Halyna Hutchins in 2019

Halls and Gutierrez-Reed have both been charged in the fatal shooting.

Halls pleaded guilty to dangerous handling of a firearm and Gutierrez-Reed was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year, and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

A key point in the trial is Mr Baldwin’s claim that he did not pull the trigger when the shot was fired from the revolver he was holding.

Prosecutors quickly took aim at that claim, detailing the FBI’s extensive testing of the weapon.

“It worked perfectly well as intended,” Ms Johnson told the jury.

Mr. Baldwin’s team also discussed the tests and noted that during one of them, the FBI destroyed parts of weapon – thus preventing it from being used for further analysis part of their defense.

The remainder of the trial will include multiple witnesses and video and audio from the Rust set, including the day Ms. Hutchins was killed.

The first witness called Wednesday was Officer Nicholas LeFleur, who responded to the scene and tried to help Hutchins after she was shot.

Footage from his body camera was shown in court.

The room, which seats about 100 people, was filled with heavy sighs as they watched some of Ms Hutchins’ final moments.

Mr. Baldwin was visibly uncomfortable, leaning forward and back and sometimes grimacing and covering his face.

The trial is expected to continue until July 19. Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison.

More information on the Rust shooting