Defense attorney says ‘Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting’ during involuntary manslaughter trial – Chicago Tribune

SANTA FE, N.M. — A defense attorney told jurors Wednesday that the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was an “unspeakable tragedy” but that “ Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting.”

Baldwin’s lawyer Alex Spiro emphasized in his opening statement in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtroom that Baldwin, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, did exactly what actors always do on the set of the film “Rust,” where Hutchins was killed in October, 2021.

“I don’t have to tell you any more about this, because you’ve all seen gunfights in movies,” Spiro said.

Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson argued in her opening statement that Baldwin “violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety” by skipping safety checks and recklessly handling a revolver in the moments leading up to the shooting.

“The evidence will show that someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin,” Johnson said.

Spiro replied that “these cardinal rules, they’re not cardinal rules on a movie set.”

“On a movie set, safety has to occur before a gun is placed in an actor’s hand,” Spiro told the jury.

The first witness to take the stand was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Bonanza Creek Ranch on the day of the shooting. Video footage shown in the courtroom from the body camera of Nicholas LeFleur, the Santa Fe county sheriff’s deputy, captured the frantic efforts to save Hutchins.

He described a chaotic scene with more than 100 people present, and said he summoned an emergency helicopter because “we were quite a ways out for an ambulance.”

His subdued manner stood in contrast to the drama of his lapel video, which showed Hutchins, who looked unconscious as several people attended to her and gave her an oxygen mask. In the courtroom, Baldwin looked at the screen somberly as it played.

Later in the video, LeFleur tries to isolate Baldwin from other witnesses by having him get into a vehicle, but Baldwin asks to stay where he is outside near other crew members so he can smoke a cigarette, and LeFleur allows him to.

He tells Baldwin not to speak to the other potential witnesses, but Baldwin repeatedly does.

“Was Mr. Baldwin supposed to be talking about the incident?” special prosecutor Kari Morrissey asked him.

“No ma’am,” LeFleur answered.

“Does he appear to be doing it anyway?”

“Yes, ma’am,” LeFleur replied.

Asked whether it was an ideal way to handle a person in Baldwin’s situation, he replied, “Probably not. But it’s what happened.”

Johnson emphasized in her opening that the set was a workplace, where innocent people had the expectation of safety that Baldwin and others denied them.

“The evidence will show that like in many workplaces, there are people who act in a reckless manner and place other people in danger,” Johnson said. “That, you will hear, is the defendant.”

Johnson walked the jurors through the events leading up to Hutchins death. She said on that day, Baldwin declined multiple opportunities for standard safety checks with armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed before the rehearsal in the small church about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the courthouse where Hutchins, “a vibrant 42-year-old rising star,” was killed. She said Baldwin instead “did his own thing.”

“He cocks the hammer, points it straight at Miss Hutchins, and fires that gun, sending that live bullet right into Miss Hutchins body,” said Johnson, a relative newcomer to the case, appointed in late April by the Santa Fe district attorney’s office.

During the presentation, Baldwin trained his eyes downward on a notepad, away from the jury. He watched Spiro intently during his opening. His wife Hilaria Baldwin and his brother, actor Stephen Baldwin, were among the family and friends sitting behind him.

The trial will delve into the confluence of gun safety, high-wattage celebrity and a low-budget Western movie on the remote ranch set.

The 16 jurors — 11 women and five men — come from a region with strong currents of gun ownership and safety informed by backcountry hunting. Four of the jurors will be deemed alternates while the other 12 deliberate once they get the case.

Hutchins’ death and the wounding of director Joel Souza nearly three years ago sent shock waves through the film industry and led to one felony charge against Baldwin, 66, that could result in up to 18 months in prison.

“It killed an amazing person,” Spiro said. “It wounded another, and it changed lives forever.”

Baldwin has claimed the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware that it was loaded with a live round, he said he pulled back the hammer — not the trigger — and it fired.

“No one saw him intentionally pull the trigger,” Spiro said.

But he said even if Baldwin had pulled it and was lying, Spiro said, it still would not have been manslaughter.

“On a movie set, you’re allowed to pull that trigger,” Spiro said, adding, “that doesn’t make it a homicide.”

The lawyer emphasized that the responsibility for safety lay with the film’s armorer, Gutierrez-Reed, who has already been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and assistant director David Halls, who pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon in exchange for his testimony at trial.

Baldwin had been told “cold gun” before getting the revolver, not knowing there was a live round in it.

“It had been checked and double checked by those responsible for ensuring the gun was safe,” Spiro said. “He did not tamper with it he did not load it himself. He did not leave it unattended.”

Spiro has in recent years become one of the most sought-after defense attorneys in the country. His clients have included Elon Musk, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Megan Thee Stallion.

Baldwin — the star of “Beetlejuice,” “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “30 Rock” — has been a household name as an actor and public personality for more than three decades.

Spiro said in concluding his opening that witnesses will attest that “no actor in history” has “intercepted a live bullet from a prop gun.”

“No one could have imagined or expected an actor to do that,” the lawyer said.

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.

Testimony at trial will delve into the mechanics of the weapon and whether it could have fired without a trigger pull. Prosecutors say it couldn’t have.

“That gun the defendant had asked to be assigned worked perfectly fine as it was designed,” Johnson said. “He pointed the gun at another human being, cocked the hammer, and pulled that trigger, in reckless disregard for Mis Hutchins safety.”

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