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Prosecutor says Alec Baldwin ‘violated cardinal rules of firearm safety’

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

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A prosecutor told jurors that Alec Baldwin “violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety” in opening statements at his trial for involuntary manslaughter.

“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,” special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson said.

She emphasised that the set of the film Rust, where cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot and killed, was a workplace.

Meanwhile, a defence attorney told jurors the death of Ms Hutchins was an “unspeakable tragedy” but that “Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting”.

Baldwin’s lawyer Alex Spiro emphasised in his opening statement that the star did exactly what actors always do.

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

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.

Baldwin Set Shooting
The movie set of Rust at Bonanza Creek Ranch (Jae C Hong/AP)

The shooting death of cinematographer Hutchins, a 42-year-old rising star in her craft, nearly three years ago sent shock waves through the film industry and led to one felony charge against Baldwin that could result in up to 18 months in prison.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty. He entered the courtroom with a disposable coffee cup in his hand. His wife Hilaria Baldwin and brother, Stephen Baldwin, were seated close by in the audience, among relatives and friends of the defendant.

He sat surrounded by his lawyers, wearing a dark blue suit in the Santa Fe courthouse a short drive from the movie-ranch setting of scenes from Rust.

Baldwin Set Shooting Film Incentives
A photograph of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a vigil in her honour (Andres Leighton/AP)

Unaware that it was loaded with a live round, he said he pulled back the hammer — not the trigger — and it fired.

Prosecutors have said they will present evidence that Baldwin went “off script” and failed to follow basic industry standards for firearms safety when he pointed the firearm at Hutchins on October 21, 2021.

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.

In court filings, defence attorneys have highlighted that the armourer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, already has been found responsible for the shooting, along with testimony that the gun had been checked by an assistant director before it was handed to Baldwin — and that the shooting was incomprehensible and shocking to the entire movie crew because of their belief that there was no live ammunition on set.

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 shortcomings in a final safety check of the gun before Baldwin began rehearsing with it, as well as the mechanics of the weapon and whether it could have fired without a trigger pull.

The live bullet that killed Hutchins also wounded director Joel Souza.

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