Alec Baldwin Appears in Court on Eve of ‘Rust’ Manslaughter Trial

Actor Alec Baldwin appeared in a New Mexico courtroom Monday for a lengthy hearing on the evidence that will be allowed at his looming trial over the deadly shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the ill-fated Western movie Rust.

In two of her biggest rulings a day before the start of jury selection, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled that evidence showing Baldwin yelling at crew members to hurry up and evidence that Baldwin was a producer and “boss” on the Rust set will be barred during the criminal trial, which is expected to last 10 days. In both instances, the judge ruled that such evidence would be more prejudicial than useful to jurors.

Baldwin, 66, is fighting prosecutors’ claims he committed involuntary manslaughter when he pointed an Italian-made replica of a 19th-century Colt revolver at Hutchins and pulled the trigger during a rehearsal inside a wooden church on Oct. 21, 2021. A centerpiece of Baldwin’s defense is that he did not depress the trigger and believes the weapon was defective. Either way, he contends he had no reason to suspect the revolver was loaded with a live bullet considering someone declared “cold gun” before handing him the weapon. (A cold gun is a firearm that has been checked to make sure it doesn’t contain live ammunition.)

With the start of jury selection hours away, New Mexico Judge Sommer issued her key rulings Monday during a tense hearing livestreamed by CourtTV. She decided prosecutors will be allowed to play videos showing Baldwin using his replica revolver during filming at New Mexico’s Bonanza Creek Ranch leading up to the deadly shooting because they are “relevant” to the disputed questions of whether the gun was functioning properly and whether Baldwin was “handling the firearm safely.” She said the “probative value is substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice.”

“They’re showing that [the gun] did work because he’s shooting. Videos that show that he’s cocking the gun when he doesn’t need to cock the gun, goes to that, negligent use of a deadly weapon,” the judge ruled. But in siding with Baldwin’s defense, the judge said videos showing Baldwin swearing and rushing reloads will be off limits at trial. “Everything else regarding him yelling at the crew or telling people to hurry up, none of that is relevant, and that is propensity evidence,” Judge Sommer said.

Video footage of Baldwin yelling at movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to reload his weapon between takes was shown to jurors during Gutierrez-Reed’s manslaughter trial that ended in conviction in March. For that trial, one of the questions the jury was asked to decide was whether Gutierrez-Reed acted negligently when she let safety standards slip amid pressure on a hurried set.

In another of her most consequential rulings Monday, Judge Sommer decided that jurors will not hear evidence about Baldwin’s dual role as producer of the film. She ruled that it would be too prejudicial to say Baldwin “was the boss” considering his contract stated he couldn’t make decisions, such as hiring someone, without getting approval first. “The probative value is not substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice and certainly confusion of issues to the jury. So I’m denying evidence of his status as a producer,” Judge Sommer ruled.

Baldwin sat at his defense table Monday between his two high-powered lawyers, Alex Spiro and Luke Nikas. Wearing glasses and a suit and tie, he took notes and shuffled through papers. Two weeks ago, Baldwin tried but failed to get his indictment dismissed on the grounds that an FBI forensics expert “destroyed” the gun at the center of the case during testing.

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If convicted of the single felony count of involuntary manslaughter, Baldwin faces a maximum possible sentence of 18 months in New Mexico state prison. Gutierrez-Reed, 27, was sentenced to 18 months after her conviction following her separate 10-day trial.

In closing arguments for Gutierrez-Reed’s trial held before Judge Sommer, prosecutors told jurors that Gutierrez-Reed negligently brought live ammunition onto the set and failed to identify that it was mixed in with the inert, dummy rounds that she was loading into prop weapons. Six live bullets were eventually found on the production, including the live round that killed Hutchins. Two others were found loose on top of a prop cart while one was found in Baldwin’s holster belt and another was found in actor Jensen Ackles’ gun belt.

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