Alec Baldwin is about to go on trial in the death of a cinematographer

Alec Baldwin speaks with investigators following a fatal shooting on a movie set in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer.

Alec Baldwin speaks with investigators following a fatal shooting on a movie set in Santa Fe, N.M. Baldwin faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office via AP)


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SANTA FE, N.M. — Nearly three years after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed on the New Mexico set of the film "Rust," Alec Baldwin is going on trial over her death. Here are the essential things to know.

The actor is about to enter a New Mexico courtroom for the first time since the Oct. 21, 2021 shooting. He is charged with felony involuntary manslaughter. If a jury unanimously convicts him, he could get 18 months in prison.

Baldwin, the star and co-producer of the Western, was pointing a revolver at Hutchins during a rehearsal in a small church on the movie set at Bonanza Creek Ranch when the gun went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza. Baldwin has said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired.

Two major themes will predominate, one large, one small: the chaotic atmosphere of the movie set, and the details of the Italian-made classic revolver that Baldwin pointed at Hutchins.

It has never been officially determined who brought the live rounds that killed Hutchins on to the set. Prosecutors at the previous trial of "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed alleged that she was responsible. She was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to the same 18 months in prison Baldwin faces.

Prosecutors have two alternative standards for proving the charge. One is based on the negligent use of a firearm. The other is proving beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin acted with total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.

Despite the legal and technical complexities of the case, the 12 citizens of Santa Fe County that will make up the jury will have to reach just one verdict — guilty or not guilty — on a single count.

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stands by her defense team during her involuntary manslaughter trial, March 5 at the First Judicial District Courthouse in Santa Fe, N.M. A jury convicted Gutierrez-Reed of involuntary manslaughter on March 6 in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer.
Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stands by her defense team during her involuntary manslaughter trial, March 5 at the First Judicial District Courthouse in Santa Fe, N.M. A jury convicted Gutierrez-Reed of involuntary manslaughter on March 6 in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer. (Photo: Jim Weber/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

The trial at the First Judicial District Court of New Mexico — about 20 miles northeast of the movie set and the shooting — is projected to last nine days, and Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer insists that she'll keep the lawyers in line and on schedule. Jury selection begins Tuesday, with opening statements expected Wednesday, and the projected end the following Friday. Once the jurors get the case, however, they can deliberate as long as needed.

The defense will try to show that it is not the job of an actor to make sure real rounds are not in his gun, a position strongly supported by Baldwin's union, the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists.

Baldwin said in an interview with ABC News, and implied in interviews with authorities, that he never pulled the revolver's trigger.

His lawyers will also attack the gun evidence, and the serious damage done to the revolver during an FBI test they say amounted to the destruction of evidence and left the defense no chance to examine it.

A musician plays a violin behind a photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honor in Albuquerque, N.M., Oct. 23, 2021.
A musician plays a violin behind a photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honor in Albuquerque, N.M., Oct. 23, 2021. (Photo: Andres Leighton, Associated Press)

Firearms experts for the prosecution who testified at the Gutierrez-Reed trial are returning to the witness stand, over objections by Baldwin, to testify about his handling of the revolver and whether the gun was functioning properly.

And they may press witnesses over whether Hutchins received proper medical treatment between the shooting and the declaration of her death at a hospital.

Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies appointed Kari Morrissey as a special prosecutor in the Baldwin case in early 2023. Morrissey promptly had the indictment against Baldwin dismissed, but revived it in January of this year by grand jury. Both moves came from further examination of the evidence, she said.

The prosecutors will try to convince jurors that as a producer and the most important person on the set, Baldwin brought a recklessness to the production, and that as an actor he was negligent in handling his gun.

The crew members inside the small church building who became eye-witnesses to Hutchins' killing will provide the trial's most essential testimony. They include director Joel Souza, who was himself shot and wounded by the bullet from Baldwin's gun, and assistant director David Halls, the film's assistant director, who some said was responsible for the shooting but pleaded no contest to negligent handling of a firearm.

Zac Sneesby, a crew member who was holding a boom microphone during the rehearsal, will testify that he saw Baldwin pull the trigger of the revolver, prosecutors said in court filings, making him potentially the most important witness of all.

Prosecutors also may call Gutierrez-Reed to the stand, but Marlowe Sommer rejected an immunity deal they wanted to give her.

Jurors will hear testimony from firearms experts who allege the revolver was working properly could not have fired without pulling the trigger.

Baldwin himself can take the stand in his defense, but he doesn't have to. His attorneys have not said which he will do.

The trial will be streamed and broadcast by several outlets including Court TV.

Hutchins, who was 42 when she died, was a cinematographer on the rise and a mother of a young son when she was killed. 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.

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Andrew Dalton

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