Alec Baldwin accused of playing "make-believe" with gun in Rust trial opening statements

Santa Fe, New Mexico - Alec Baldwin was accused of violating basic gun safety rules and playing "make-believe" with a deadly weapon, as the Hollywood star's trial for involuntary manslaughter over a fatal shooting on the set of the Western movie Rust began Wednesday.

Alec Baldwin was accused of violating basic gun safety rules and playing "make-believe" with a deadly weapon, as the star's trial for involuntary manslaughter.
Alec Baldwin was accused of violating basic gun safety rules and playing "make-believe" with a deadly weapon, as the star's trial for involuntary manslaughter.  © POOL / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

Baldwin was holding a prop revolver during the fateful rehearsal in October 2021 when it fired a live round, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding the movie's director.

He has said that he did not know the gun was loaded and denies that he pulled the revolver's trigger.

But in opening statements at the Santa Fe court, prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson painted a picture of a powerful movie star who acted in "a reckless manner" and "without due regard for the safety of others" on set.

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Baldwin played "make-believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety," Johnson told the jury.

She said Baldwin had "requested to be assigned the biggest gun available" for the Rust scene, had failed to take a gun training session seriously, and regularly cocked and pointed the gun at people on set.

"Movie set safety rules require actors like the defendant to treat every firearm as though it's loaded, to never point a firearm at another person, and to never put your finger on the trigger unless you're prepared to shoot," she told the jury.

Baldwin (66) could face up to 18 months in prison if found guilty.

Baldwin family joins the courtroom for trial opening statements

Alec Baldwin's brother, Stephen (r.), attended Wednesday's opening statements.
Alec Baldwin's brother, Stephen (r.), attended Wednesday's opening statements.  © Ross D. Franklin / POOL / AFP

The actor appeared in the New Mexico courtroom in on Wednesday wearing a dark suit and tie and chatted quietly with his wife, Hilaria, and brother, Stephen, before opening statements began.

His celebrity lawyer, Alex Spiro – whose other clients include Elon Musk and Jay-Z – delivered a long opening statement rebutting the notion that normal gun safety rules apply for actors while performing roles.

"These cardinal rules? They're not cardinal rules on a movie set," said Spiro.

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"You've all seen gunfights in movies," he told the jury, citing classics like Platoon, Apocalypse Now, and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"The reason that can happen is because safety is ensured before the actor" is handed the weapon, he said.

Spiro focused blame on the movie's safety officials, including armorer Hannah Gutierrez and first assistant director David Halls.

Gutierrez was convicted by the same court earlier this year and is serving an 18-month sentence. Halls pled guilty to negligence under a deal to avoid prison.

Live bullets are banned from movie sets. Spiro also criticized police for failing to find the fatal bullet.

Alec Baldwin faces manslaughter charges over the death of Halyna Hutchins

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed in the on-set shooting in 2021.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed in the on-set shooting in 2021.  © SAM WASSON / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / GETTY IMAGES VIA AFP

Hutchins, the victim, was originally from Ukraine, and her career as a Hollywood cinematographer was thriving when she was killed at the age of 42.

The tragedy occurred during a rehearsal in a small chapel on the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a historic location for Western movies, on a sunny afternoon mid-way through the filming of Rust.

Baldwin was preparing for a scene in which his character, a grizzled outlaw trapped in the church by two marshals, brandishes his Colt six-shooter.

An earlier take of the scene was played on screens for jurors.

Spiro repeated that Baldwin was told the gun was "cold," meaning it was not loaded, and that he was instructed by Hutchins to aim the revolver toward her camera when it misfired.

An FBI report has contradicted part of Baldwin's story, concluding that the revolver could not have fired without its trigger being pulled. Prosecutors will present witnesses, including the gun's manufacturer, to support that finding.

But those FBI tests damaged the weapon. Spiro told jurors that Baldwin was robbed of a chance to disprove the report's findings, even suggesting the damage was deliberate.

Will Alec Baldwin testify in his manslaughter trial?

The jury will hear testimony from witnesses, including Halls and prop firearms supplier Seth Kenney.

It is not yet known if Baldwin plans to take the stand in his defense. Legal experts say it would be a risky move, exposing the allegedly temperamental actor to hostile cross-examination.

Spiro has already warned jurors their feelings about Baldwin's high-profile career – including his Donald Trump impersonations for Saturday Night Live – cannot cloud their judgments.

The trial is scheduled to conclude Friday of next week. Jury deliberations could extend into the following week.

Cover photo: Collage: POOL / GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA / Getty Images via AFP

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