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Openings claim the film set was unsafe

Photo: Ross D. Franklin/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

During opening statements in the manslaughter trial of Alec Baldwin in Santa Fe, New Mexico Rust shooting, the prosecution and defense offered conflicting narratives about the role of fantasy on set. Here’s what happened in opening statements, from the prosecution’s arguments to defense attorney Anthony Spiro playing clips of unreleased film.

Prosecutor Erlinda Johnson accused Baldwin of “playing pretend with a real gun and violating basic firearm safety rules” in the accidental death of camerawoman Halyna Hutchins. Lead defense attorney Alex Spiro used the filmmaking fantasy to argue that the actor wasn’t acting irresponsibly, arguing that performers point guns at others in movies and shows all the time — it was the bullet that shouldn’t have been there, not Baldwin’s actions, that led to the death. “Alec Baldwin committed no crime. He was an actor playing Harland Rust,” Spiro told jurors. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty.

In her opening statement, Johnson portrayed Baldwin, who starred in and produced the film, as reckless with firearms and suggested that the cast and crew faced constraints that increased the risk of someone getting hurt on set. “Even though it was a movie set, it was a real workplace for a lot of people, but you’ll hear that this workplace was on a tight budget and you’ll hear that some of the people that were hired to work there were very inexperienced, and one of them was a gunsmith, a young woman named Hannah-Gutierrez Reed,” Johnson said, saying it was “obvious.”

Johnson claimed that before Baldwin arrived on set, he “asked for the largest gun available.” Baldwin’s demeanor suggested a lack of focus. “The defendant had several people filming him running around and shooting that gun,” Johnson claimed. In the days leading up to the fatal incident, Baldwin had repeatedly handled the gun, even fired it, and the gun functioned “perfectly.”

“On each occasion that the defendant picked up this firearm, he did not check the safety with an inexperienced gunsmith. As we later learned, the reason he did not check the safety was because he was afraid he would offend her,” Johnson said.

Johnson described Baldwin’s alleged behavior in the moments leading up to Hutchins’ death. Baldwin was told to “slowly draw the gun and hold it at an angle.” But the footage will show Baldwin “quickly” drawing the gun and cocking it with his finger on the trigger. Then Baldwin does it again. “The evidence will show that on the third and fatal attempt, he draws it, once again, quickly, cocks the hammer, points it directly at Ms. Hutchins and discharges the gun, sending a live round into Ms. Hutchins’ body,” she said. “The defendant failed to conduct a safety check on the firearm with this inexperienced gunsmith,” she added. “He pointed the firearm at another person, cocked the hammer and pulled the trigger in reckless disregard of Ms. Hutchins’ safety.”

Spiro, in his opening statement, pointed the finger at Gutierrez-Reed and David Halls. Baldwin’s shot was not lethal — it was live ammunition that he didn’t know about. “These men were in breach of their duties, but Alec Baldwin committed no crime — the most important issue in this case is how a real bullet ended up on a movie set,” he said. “Real bullets should never be on a movie set.” Because Baldwin’s job was as an actor, he would defer to the gun handlers on set when they said it was safe. So when the set announced “firearms” — meaning they had been checked multiple times — he had no reason to think twice. “A firearm can’t hurt anyone.” Spiro also showed video from the church on Rust set; the footage shows Baldwin being ordered to remove his gun from its holster.

Baldwin is accused of accidentally killing Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021, during a rehearsal for a scene; he is accused of pointing the gun at her and pulling the trigger. Prosecutors say gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed provided the gun to Baldwin and that it was not properly inspected to make sure it did not contain live ammunition. Director Joel Souza was also wounded in the shooting. Gutierrez-Reed was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the March 6, 2024, incident. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison on April 15. David Halls — who pleaded not guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon and was sentenced to six months of probation — testified at Gutierrez-Reed’s trial and claimed she gave Baldwin the gun. Baldwin insisted that Halls, who was in charge of set security, gave him the gun. Baldwin could be seen taking notes at various points during opening statements. He looked serious throughout the proceedings. Witness testimony began after the opening, and Santa Fe police officer Nicholas Lefleur took the podium.