Alec Baldwin says he did not know the gun was loaded and did not pull the trigger of the weapon that killed a 'Rust' crew member

Santa Fe (United States) (AFP) - Alec Baldwin was accused of violating basic gun safety rules and playing “make-believe” with a deadly weapon, as the Hollywood star’s trial for involuntary manslaughter over a fatal shooting on the set of Western movie “Rust” began Wednesday.

Baldwin was holding a prop revolver during a fateful rehearsal in October 2021 when it fired a live round, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding the movie’s director.

In opening statements in a court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson painted a picture of a powerful movie star who behaved in “a reckless manner” and “without due regard for the safety of others” on set.

She said Baldwin had “requested to be assigned the biggest gun available” for the “Rust” scene, had failed to take a weapons training session seriously, and regularly cocked and pointed firearms at people on set.

Baldwin played “make-believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety,” Johnson told the jury.

Movie set safety rules require actors “to treat every firearm as though it’s loaded, to never point a firearm at another person, and to never put your finger on the trigger unless you’re prepared to shoot,” she added.

- ‘Gunfights in movies’ -

Alec Baldwin was accompanied by his celebrity lawyer Alex Spiro and wife Hilaria

Baldwin, 66, faces up to 18 months in prison if found guilty.

The actor – known for the television comedy “30 Rock” – attended the court wearing a dark suit and tie, chatting quietly with wife Hilaria, brother Stephen and sister Beth.

His celebrity lawyer Alex Spiro, whose other clients include Elon Musk and Jay-Z, said Baldwin had no reason to believe the gun might be loaded, and was not responsible as an actor for checking the weapon’s contents.

Normal gun safety rules do not apply to actors while they are performing, he told the court in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

“These cardinal rules? They’re not cardinal rules on a movie set,” said Spiro.

“You’ve all seen gunfights in movies,” he told the jury, citing classics like “Platoon,” “Apocalypse Now” and “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

“The reason that can happen is because safety is ensured before the actor” is handed the weapon, he said.

In a 2021 television interview, Baldwin said he did not pull the trigger.

On Wednesday, Spiro appeared to partly row back on that claim, while maintaining his client’s innocence.

“On a movie set, you’re allowed to pull the trigger,” he told the jury.

“So even if he intentionally pulled the trigger… that doesn’t make him guilty of homicide.”

- ‘Live bullet’ -

It is not yet known if Alec Baldwin plans to take the stand in his defense

Hutchins, the victim, was originally from Ukraine, and her career as a Hollywood cinematographer was thriving when she was killed at the age of 42.

The tragedy occurred during a rehearsal in a small chapel on the Bonanza Creek Ranch, a historic location for Western movies, midway through the filming of “Rust.”

Baldwin was practicing a scene in which his outlaw character, trapped by two marshals, brandishes his Colt six-shooter.

FBI testing found the revolver could not have fired without its trigger being pulled and prosecutors will present witnesses, including the gun’s manufacturer, to support that finding.

However, the weapon was damaged during testing. Spiro suggested that could have been deliberate, to prevent the report’s findings being disproved.

But he focused blame on the movie’s safety officials, including armorer Hannah Gutierrez, for allowing a live bullet to be brought on set.

“That live bullet is the key,” said Spiro.

Gutierrez was convicted by the same court this year and is serving an 18-month sentence.

- Harrowing video -

If found guilty, Alec Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison

Witnesses called Wednesday included police officers who arrived early to the scene of the tragedy.

The court saw footage from their lapel cameras, including harrowing video of some of Hutchins’s final moments.

Baldwin watched with his arms crossed, fidgeting in his seat and occasionally glancing at the jury.

It is not known if Baldwin will take the stand in his defense. Legal experts say it would be a risky move, exposing the allegedly temperamental actor to hostile cross-examination.

The trial is scheduled to conclude Friday of next week, with jury deliberations to follow.