Trial Of The Peacemaker: Alec Baldwin Faces Legal Firestorm Over 'Rust' Shooting

Alec Baldwin’s trial for the fatal shooting of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a New Mexico movie set in 2021 has put the mechanics of a Colt .45 “Peacemaker” revolver front and center, a symbol synonymous with the American Wild West.

Alec Baldwin’s trial for the fatal shooting of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a New Mexico movie set in 2021 has put the mechanics of a Colt .45 “Peacemaker” revolver front and center, a symbol synonymous with the American Wild West. In a Santa Fe courtroom on Tuesday, Baldwin and his wife Hilaria observed as 12 jurors and four alternates were selected, comprising 11 women and 5 men.

Trial Commencement Amidst Media Attention

The trial is set to commence on Wednesday, marking nearly three years since the tragic incident where Baldwin discharged the firearm toward Hutchins during preparations for a camera shot inside a movie-set church located 20 miles southwest of Santa Fe.

During jury selection, prosecutors delved into potential jurors’ awareness of the case, while defense lawyers probed their familiarity with Baldwin’s career and whether it could sway their views on the actor.

“There’s a man who’s sitting here who has his day in court now, finally, Alec Baldwin, and so he’s obviously not just a person in the media, he’s a real person,” Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro told potential jurors.

Impact on Hollywood Safety Standards

Hutchins’ tragic death in 2021 marked the first fatal shooting on a Hollywood set in three decades, prompting immediate calls to reconsider the widespread use of real firearms during film productions.

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What makes this case particularly noteworthy is the rarity of an actor facing criminal charges for a shooting death on set, with Alec Baldwin, known for his role in “30 Rock,” potentially facing up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

Earlier this year, “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez, responsible for firearm safety on the set, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter by a jury in Santa Fe, New Mexico. Her conviction stemmed from the accidental loading of a live round into Baldwin’s gun, resulting in Gutierrez receiving the maximum sentence of 18 months.

Rare Legal Circumstance for an Actor

Legal analysts and firearms experts had long anticipated that Alec Baldwin’s case would largely revolve around whether he had properly checked the gun after being informed it was “cold,” a term indicating it was either unloaded or loaded with inert rounds.

However, in a significant turn during an interview in December 2021 with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, Baldwin asserted that he did not pull the trigger of the reproduction 1873 Single Action Army pistol. The 66-year-old actor explained that he had merely cocked the pistol when it unexpectedly discharged a live round, resulting in the tragic death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

Subsequently, Santa Fe police conducted their own investigation to verify Baldwin’s statements. An FBI examination concluded that the firearm operated as expected and could not discharge at full cock without the trigger being pulled. Following these findings, state prosecutors proceeded to charge Baldwin, alleging he had misled investigators regarding the trigger mechanism.

Intentional Modification of the Gun

Last year, Baldwin’s legal team presented photographic evidence suggesting that the full-cock notch of the Italian-made Pietta gun had been intentionally modified, potentially allowing for a mechanical failure or what they termed as an “accidental discharge” without requiring a trigger pull. This detail was crucial in their defense strategy, emphasizing that the firearm’s altered state contributed to the tragic incident on set.

Legal experts foresee a challenging road ahead for the prosecution in proving that Baldwin knew he could cause Hutchins’ death but acted with willful disregard for the risk—a threshold of criminal negligence necessary for an involuntary manslaughter conviction.

“The gun is probably the best defense, because there is no way to definitively say what the condition of the firearm was,” said gun historian Ashley Hlebinsky.

Last year, prosecutors dropped charges upon concluding the gun had been altered. Subsequently, they presented the case to a grand jury, which reinstated charges in January after an independent firearms expert corroborated the FBI’s findings. The FBI’s testing involved the destruction of the gun, leaving Baldwin’s legal team unable to substantiate claims of modification. Hlebinsky suggested Baldwin’s defense strategy may hinge on casting doubt on the mechanics of the pistol.

The firearms historian, who has provided expertise in court cases involving single action Colt .45 type revolvers akin to Baldwin’s, remarked, “I don’t think anyone can say 100% what happened,”

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