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Witness testimony begins in trial of Alec Baldwin, charged in shooting death on "Rust" film set

Testimony underway in Baldwin's manslaughter trial
Testimony underway in Alec Baldwin's manslaughter trial 02:03

Witness testimony started on Wednesday in the trial of award-winning actor Alec Baldwin, who is charged in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film "Rust." Baldwin has pleaded not guilty in the case

Nicholas LeFleur, a Santa Fe county sheriff's deputy who was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Bonanza Creek Ranch after the shooting, was the first witness to take the stand. Bodycam footage shown in the courtroom captured the frantic efforts to save Hutchins.

Actor Alec Baldwin listens during his hearing in Santa Fe County District Court, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. ROSS D. FRANKLIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Spiro tried to establish that neither LeFleur, nor the trial's second witness, former sheriff's Lt. Tim Benavidez, treated the scene as a place where a major crime had occurred, according to The Associated Press. 

Earlier Wednesday, prosecutor Erlinda Johnson delivered the opening statement for the prosecution, telling jurors that a prop gun "is a real gun" and alleging that Baldwin requested to be assigned the biggest gun available. Johnson said Baldwin mishandled the gun on set, such as using it as a pointer.

"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.

Alec Baldwin trial
Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson shows a bullet in an evidence bag during actor Alec Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial in Santa Fe County District Court on July 10, 2024 in Santa Fe, New Mexico.  ROSS D. FRANKLIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

During opening statements, Baldwin listened intently, taking notes as his family looked on.    

"Movie set safety rules require actors, like the defendant, to never point a firearm at another person," Johnson said. 

Throughout Johnson's opening statement, the prosecution played photos from the set, including photos of Hutchins and the church where the shooting took place behind her, Baldwin in costume, the church surrounded with crime scene tape and of emergency personnel working.

Alex Spiro then began the defense's opening statement, telling the jury that critical safety issues on the set were not Baldwin's fault — that safety checks should be performed before a gun goes into an actor's hand. 

"It was just a prop, the gun has to be safe before it gets into the actor's hands," Spiro said.       

The defense played scenes during the opening statement that included the director's comments to Baldwin to repeat the scene, which Spiro said indicated no one thought there was any danger from the gun.

"The prop gun was placed into Mr. Baldwin's hands, and 'cold gun,' was announced," Spiro said. 

Law enforcement officer Nicholas LeFleur
Law enforcement officer Nicholas LeFleur testifies in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Alec Baldwin in Santa Fe County District Court, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, new Mexico.  ROSS D. FRANKLIN/POOL/AFP via Getty Images

Jury selection Tuesday was marked by delays, with the questioning of the 70 potential jurors starting several hours later than expected. But by the end of the day, that pool had been winnowed to 16 jurors, four of whom are alternates. The 11 women and five men seated will hear the case over the coming weeks and decide whether to convict the 66-year-old actor.

What happened on the "Rust" set?

Around 2 p.m. local time on Oct. 21, 2021, a prop firearm held by Baldwin went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza during a rehearsal in a small church on the set. Baldwin, the Western's star and coproducer, has said he pulled back the Colt .45's hammer, but did not pull the trigger

Authorities were called to the set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch and Hutchins was taken to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque via helicopter, where she died of her injuries, according to the sheriff's office at the time.

Authorities who searched the set recovered live ammunition. The New Mexico Office of the Medical Investigator determined in 2022 that the incident was an accident.

What charge does Alec Baldwin face?

Alec Baldwin faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter, a felony. If convicted, he could face up to a year and a half in prison. He has pleaded not guilty.

He was initially charged in January 2023 but prosecutors dismissed those counts three months later. Prosecutors again indicted Baldwin on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in January.

Baldwin asked for the charge to be dismissed, but the judge overseeing the case rejected his request.

Where is the trial, when does it start and how long will it last?

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer is presiding over the trial in New Mexico's First District Court, in Santa Fe.

The judge set the trial calendar to run from July 9-19. Jury selection was completed Tuesday and opening statements started on Wednesday. Courtroom proceedings are expected to conclude by July 19, after which the case will go to the jury for deliberations.

While cameras were not allowed in the courtroom during jury selection, the trial is being livestreamed.

Will Alec Baldwin testify?

Baldwin's attorneys have not said whether the actor will take the stand in his own defense. The actor has been in court for proceedings and is expected to attend every day.

Who else is expected to testify?

The state's witness list contains 44 names, while the defense lists 14 individuals as potential witnesses.

While prosecutors wanted to call the film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who has already been convicted of involuntary manslaughter in the case, the judge ruled in June she could not be compelled to testify against Baldwin though she remains on the prosecution's list of potential witnesses. She did not testify in her own defense.  

On the prosecution's list of dozens of potential witnesses is Joel Souza, the film's director who was also wounded in the shooting, along with several people who also also testified at Gutierrez-Reed's trial, such as Seth Kenney, who owned the prop weapons company that supplied the film's ammunition; Wyatt Mortenson, a stuntman on the film; and Gabrielle Pickle, a line producer.

The defense's shorter list of potential witnesses includes David Halls, assistant director and safety coordinator; Ryan Winterstern, a producer who also testified in Gutierrez-Reed's trial; and other members of the crew, among others.

Who is Halyna Hutchins, the victim?

The Los Angeles-based Hutchins, 42, was a self-described "restless dreamer" and "adrenaline junkie" who grew up on a remote Soviet military base. The Ukranian-born cinematographer earned a degree in International Journalism from Kyiv National University and graduated from the American Film Institute conservatory. Widely regarded as a rising star, her work included "Archenemy," starring Joe Manganiello, "Blindfire" and "Darlin'," which premiered at the SXSW film festival in 2019. 

Baldwin announced in 2022 he had settled a wrongful death lawsuit with Hutchins' family: her husband, Matthew Hutchins, and their son, Andros.

Has anyone else been prosecuted in the case?

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer who oversaw firearms on the set, was also charged with involuntary manslaughter. Though she pleaded not guilty, she was convicted in March and sentenced to 18 months behind bars after a trial overseen by the same judge overseeing Baldwin's case. Gutierrez-Reed was acquitted on a charge of tampering with evidence. 

Earlier, Halls pleaded no contest to unsafe handling of a firearm. Halls, who agreed to cooperate in the shooting investigation, received a suspended sentence of six months probation.

The production company overseeing the movie was fined $136,000, the maximum under state law, by New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau over the incident.

Elise Preston, Kathleen Seccombe and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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