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Alec Baldwin Faces Manslaughter Trial for Rust Shooting Incident

Alec Baldwin Faces Manslaughter Trial for Rust Shooting Incident
Alec Baldwin is charged with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Halyna Hutchins in October 2021. Photograph: Reuters

Alec Baldwin is heading to trial on Tuesday for involuntary manslaughter charges, drawing significant attention from the entertainment industry, news media, tabloids, and legal experts.

The trial follows the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was fatally shot on the set of the movie “Rust” on October 21, 2021. Baldwin, both a lead actor and co-producer of the film, was rehearsing at a ranch in Bonanza City, New Mexico when he pointed a firearm at Hutchins. The revolver discharged, resulting in the death of Hutchins and wounding the film’s director, Joel Souza.

Baldwin contends that he pulled back the hammer of the gun, not the trigger, and asserted that the firearm malfunctioned. Investigators reported that Baldwin had been informed the gun contained no live ammunition.

This marks the second time Baldwin is facing criminal charges in this case. Prosecutors initially dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge in April of the previous year, citing the need for more investigation. They later refiled the case after a forensic analysis concluded that Baldwin must have pulled the trigger, contradicting his primary defense.

The actor’s legal team attempted to have the case dismissed last month, arguing that FBI testing damaged the firearm before they could inspect it for possible modifications. They also alleged that prosecutors withheld potentially favorable evidence. However, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer rejected the request for dismissal, stating there was no proof prosecutors acted in bad faith. Nonetheless, the judge mandated that the jury be informed about the destructive firearm testing and its implications.

In a related note, Rust’s chief weapons handler, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter earlier this year and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Prosecutors in her trial argued that she had failed to follow basic safety protocols, inserting dummy rounds and at least one live round into the prop weapon.

“You alone turned a safe weapon into a lethal weapon,” Judge Sommer remarked during Gutierrez-Reed’s sentencing. “But for you, Ms. Hutchins would be alive, a husband would have his partner, and a little boy would have his mother.”

The conviction was a substantial win for the prosecution, but it could complicate efforts to secure another guilty verdict against Baldwin, suggested Anna Cominsky, Director of the Criminal Defense Clinic at New York Law School. She highlighted that Baldwin might point to Gutierrez-Reed’s responsibility for checking the gun, making it harder for prosecutors to overcome this defense.

Prosecutors face the challenge of proving beyond reasonable doubt that Baldwin’s negligent actions specifically led to Hutchins’ death. Criminal law professor Joshua Kastenberg noted, “If you’re going to find someone guilty of criminal negligence, you have to prove the defendant practically owns the negligence in its entirety.” He added that it’s tougher in a scenario where responsibility is shared, especially since another individual has already been found guilty.

Baldwin’s previous comments and public persona could potentially impact his trial negatively. Prosecutor Kari Morrissey accused Baldwin of recklessness on the set of “Rust,” stating in an April filing, “To watch Mr. Baldwin’s conduct on the set of Rust is to witness a man with no control over his emotions and no concern for how his actions affect those around him.”

Baldwin’s role as a producer might also strengthen the prosecution’s case. Reports from the local sheriff’s department revealed that Baldwin made dismissive remarks to a detective, emphasizing that cost-cutting is common in film production and actors aren’t responsible for checking guns.

Baldwin tried to defend himself in a national television interview with George Stephanopoulos. However, prosecutor Mary Carmack-Altwies told the New York Times that Baldwin appeared unrepentant and dishonest, which partly motivated her office to proceed with the case.

Hutchins’ family, represented by attorney Gloria Allred, will not attend the trial due to the ongoing war in Ukraine. “They want to know the truth of what happened to their beloved daughter and sister,” Allred stated. “They believe the trial will shed more light on the incident and hold everyone involved accountable.”

At Gutierrez-Reed’s sentencing, Allred shared a statement from Hutchins’ father, Anatolii Androsovych: “I do not wish for revenge but believe that everyone responsible for my daughter’s death should be held accountable. This might prevent future tragedies and spare other parents similar pain.”

Both the prosecutors and Baldwin’s defense team have declined to comment.

Last month, Baldwin and his wife, Hilaria, announced a new reality show following their family for TLC.

Baldwin faces a potential sentence of up to 18 months in prison. Jury selection begins on Tuesday.

Source: The Guardian