Good news for Alec Baldwin on the eve of trial for the tragedy in the film “Rust”

Good news for Alec Baldwin on the eve of trial for the tragedy in the film “Rust”
Good news for Alec Baldwin on the eve of trial for the tragedy in the film “Rust”

The paper of Alec Baldwin as producer of the Western film “Rust” is not relevant to the involuntary manslaughter trial for a fatal shooting on the set, a New Mexico judge ruled Monday.

The move is a major setback for prosecutors just as the trial was about to begin. They had planned to present evidence that, as producerBaldwin had a special responsibility (far beyond that of the actor holding the gun) for the dangerous environment that led to the fatal shooting of the cinematographer. Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal.

“I have serious difficulty with the state’s position that as a producer, he failed to follow the guidelines and therefore as an actor, Mr. Baldwin did all of these things wrong that resulted in Ms. Hutchins’ death because as a producer, he allowed these things to happen,” Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said. “I deny the evidence of his status as a producer.”

Special prosecutor Erlinda Johnson unsuccessfully argued to allow evidence that Baldwin’s “role as a producer made him acutely aware of his on-set responsibilities” regarding safety. “This demonstrates that Mr. Baldwin knew that his conduct on the set was negligent,” she said.

In the courtroom Monday, Baldwin sat between lead attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro. He appeared to be listening intently, jotting down occasional notes on a yellow legal pad and handing written messages to an attorney. Baldwin wore glasses and had short hair.

The trial begins on July 9 with jury selection and is scheduled to last 10 days.

Last week, the judge cleared the way for firearms experts crucial to the prosecution to testify about Baldwin’s handling of the revolver and whether the weapon was working properly before the fatal shooting.

On Monday, the judge sided with prosecutors and excluded from the trial the summary findings of a state workplace safety investigation that places much of the blame on Deputy Chief Dave Halls. Halls pleaded guilty to negligent use of a firearm and could be called to testify at Baldwin’s trial.

Prosecutors say the workplace safety investigation was incomplete, unreliable and overlooked Baldwin’s responsibilities in the fatal shooting.

Rust Movie Productions paid a $100,000 fine to resolve violations of state safety regulations that were characterized as “serious” but unintentional, according to a 2023 settlement agreement. Several witnesses from the workplace safety investigation are likely to be called to testify at Baldwin’s trial.

Prosecutors will also be able to introduce at trial graphic images of Hutchins’ injuries from an autopsy report, despite defense objections, as well as police lapel camera video from the moments immediately after the shooting when medics arrived on set to treat the wounded Hutchins and Souza.

Baldwin is charged with a single felony count of involuntary manslaughter punishable by up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the on-set gunsmith, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins’ death and sentenced to 18 months in prison. Gutierrez-Reed is appealing the conviction.

In October 2021, Baldwin was rehearsing a cross-draw maneuver with the revolver when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and claims the gun accidentally went off after he followed instructions to point it at Hutchins, who was standing behind the camera. Unaware the gun contained a live bullet, Baldwin said he pulled the hammer, not the trigger, and it went off.

Baldwin’s lawyers successfully barred discussion of fatal gun incidents on film sets from the trial, including the 1993 shooting of actor Brandon Lee in the abdomen while filming a scene for “The Crow.” In that case, a makeshift bullet was mistakenly left in a gun from an earlier scene and struck Lee as he was filming a scene that required the use of blanks.

Prosecutors agreed not to take testimony about “The Crow,” but also maintain that Baldwin knew about the safety risks posed by guns, even when there is no live ammunition present.

Marlowe Sommer said he would allow only a single reference at trial to the fact that blanks can be lethal. Baldwin’s lawyers argue that it was inconceivable that blanks would end up on the set.

Prosecutors want to exclude a letter signed by crew members that questions characterizations of the “Rust” set as chaotic or dangerous before the fatal shooting.

Another pretrial motion could ease tensions between the prosecution and defense teams. Prosecutors want the judge to exclude allegations of “prosecutorial misconduct” and “personal attacks.”

Marlowe Sommer said the debate at trial over prosecutorial misconduct will be limited to the analysis of testimony about the gun in the fatal shooting and the FBI’s forensic evidence that damaged the firing mechanism. Defense attorneys argue that could have destroyed potentially exculpatory evidence.

The judge ruled that evidence and arguments designed to generate sympathy for Baldwin, including indications of remorse or the impact of the events on his family, will not be allowed at trial. Prosecutors say those arguments have no bearing on determining guilt.

Baldwin, a three-time Emmy winner, has gone from star and leading man to supporting actor to scene-stealer, sometimes going years without a major role in a hit movie or show. But he has remained a household name for nearly 35 years, largely on the strength of his real-life personality: as a liberal talk show guest and the king of all “Saturday Night Live” hosts.

 
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