Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” trial starts Monday. Key information to know.

Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” trial starts Monday. Key information to know.

Nearly three years after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was tragically shot and killed on the New Mexico set of the film “Rust,” Alec Baldwin is set to go on trial over her death. The trial is scheduled to begin with a pre-trial motion hearing on Monday, followed by jury selection on Tuesday. Opening arguments could start as early as Wednesday, with the trial expected to last nine days. Here are the key details to know about the case.

Alec Baldwin faces a charge of felony involuntary manslaughter. If convicted by a unanimous jury, he could face 18 months in prison. The incident occurred on October 21, 2021, when Baldwin, the star and co-producer of the Western film, was rehearsing a scene in a small church on the movie set at Bonanza Creek Ranch. He was pointing a revolver at Hutchins when the gun discharged, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza. Baldwin has maintained that he pulled back the hammer but did not pull the trigger.

Two major themes will dominate the trial: the chaotic atmosphere on the movie set and the specifics of the Italian-made classic revolver that Baldwin pointed at Hutchins. It remains unclear who brought the live rounds that killed Hutchins onto the set. In a previous trial, “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months in prison, the same sentence Baldwin faces if convicted.

Jurors will have to decide based on two alternative standards for proving the charge. One standard is the negligent use of a firearm, while the other requires proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin acted with total disregard or indifference for the safety of others. Despite the complexities, the 12 jurors from Santa Fe County will need to reach a single verdict: guilty or not guilty on one count.

The trial will take place at the First Judicial District Court of New Mexico, about 20 miles northeast of the movie set. Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer has emphasized that she will keep the lawyers on schedule. Jury selection begins Tuesday, with opening statements expected Wednesday, and the trial projected to end the following Friday. However, once the jurors receive the case, they can deliberate as long as needed.

Alec Baldwin, 66, is a well-known actor who rose to fame in the late 1980s and early ’90s with films like “Beetlejuice” and “The Hunt for Red October.” He later earned an Oscar nomination for his role in “The Cooler” and won two Emmys for his performance in the TV show “30 Rock.” Baldwin also gained attention for his portrayal of Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live,” for which he won another Emmy.

Baldwin has had a public persona marked by both acclaim and controversy. He has been a cherished talk-show guest and a sought-after liberal voice but has also faced public embarrassment and legal issues due to his inability to control his anger. Baldwin is the eldest of six children, five of whom are actors, and has lived in New York City for most of his adult life. He has an adult daughter, Ireland Baldwin, with his first wife Kim Basinger, and seven young children with his second wife, Hilaria Baldwin.

Baldwin’s defense team consists of elite New York-based attorneys, many of whom are Harvard Law graduates, from the firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan. Alex Spiro, a prominent defense attorney who has represented high-profile clients like Elon Musk and Megan Thee Stallion, will lead the defense. The defense will argue that it is not an actor’s responsibility to ensure that real rounds are not in their gun, a position supported by Baldwin’s union, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists. Baldwin has stated in interviews that he never pulled the revolver’s trigger.

The defense will also challenge the gun evidence, arguing that the FBI’s test on the revolver caused significant damage, amounting to the destruction of evidence and leaving the defense no chance to examine it. Firearms experts for the prosecution, who testified at Gutierrez-Reed’s trial, will return to testify about Baldwin’s handling of the revolver and whether the gun was functioning properly. The prosecution may also question whether Hutchins received proper medical treatment between the shooting and her death at the hospital.

Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies appointed Kari Morrissey as a special prosecutor in early 2023 after her predecessor stepped down due to conflicts of interest. Morrissey initially had the indictment against Baldwin dismissed but revived it in January of this year after further examination of the evidence. Morrissey, a University of New Mexico law school graduate, has practiced law in Albuquerque for over 20 years. New Mexico criminal defense attorney Erlinda Johnson joined Morrissey’s team in April.

The trial could see a culture clash between the teams of attorneys, as fiery hearings and filings have already shown. Morrissey and Spiro have frequently butted heads, and their confrontations are likely to add drama to the proceedings. The prosecution will aim to convince jurors that Baldwin, as a producer and the most important person on the set, brought recklessness to the production and was negligent in handling his gun.

Key witnesses will include crew members who were inside the small church building and witnessed Hutchins’ killing. Director Joel Souza, who was also shot and wounded, and assistant director David Halls, who some have said was responsible for the shooting, will testify. Zac Sneesby, a crew member who was holding a boom microphone during the rehearsal, will testify that he saw Baldwin pull the trigger, making him a potentially crucial witness. Prosecutors may also call Gutierrez-Reed to the stand, although an immunity deal for her was rejected.

The trial will take place in Santa Fe, New Mexico’s capital, known for its historic Southwestern beauty and as a tourist destination. The proceedings will be held in a modern legal complex, a far cry from the urban courts where other high-profile celebrity trials have taken place. The trial will attract significant media attention, with national outlets competing for seats in the courtroom and an overflow room. The public can watch the trial, which will be streamed and broadcast by several outlets, including Court TV.

Halyna Hutchins, who was 42 when she died, was a rising cinematographer and a mother of a young son. She grew up on a remote Soviet military base and worked on documentary films in Eastern Europe before studying film in Los Angeles and embarking on a promising movie-making career.

Source: CBS/AP

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