Alec Baldwin’s Rust Trial Starts Today: What’s Happened So Far, and What’s at Stake

Nearly three years after the shooting that led to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of western film Rust, Alec Baldwin is having his day in court.

Baldwin faces an involuntary manslaughter charge for his role in Hutchins’ death, and could serve up to 18 months in prison if convicted. Opening arugments began today, and the trial is expected to last two weeks, per Deadline.

With various developments that have cropped up over the past three years, let’s break down what’s already happened, and what could play out at the current trial.

What’s happened so far?

On October 21, 2021, Baldwin was on the New Mexico set of Rust when a prop gun he was holding fired a live round of ammunition that killed the 42-year-old Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza, though not critically. The Santa Fe Police Department opened an investigation into the fatal incident that same day, with Baldwin issuing a somber statement on the matter on October 22.

In January 2023, the Santa Fe District Attorney charged Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who served as the armorer on Rust, with one count each of involuntary manslaughter. In March 2023, the film’s first assistant director, David Halls, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, and was sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation as part of the plea deal.

The charge against Baldwin was dropped in April 2023, although the investigation into the on-set shooting continued. The actor, however, was hit again with an involuntary manslaughter charge this past January. His legal team attempted to have the charge dropped in a motion that was dismissed by Santa Fe judge Mary Sommer in May, ensuring that he would stand trial.

Gutierrez-Reed, meanwhile, was found guilty during her trial in April, and sentenced to 18 months in prison. And although it paused production after Hutchins’ death, Rust eventually completed filming last May.

What are the arguments on both sides?

For his part, Baldwin has consistently argued that he did not pull the trigger of the prop revolver, but that it fired due to a malfunction. That claim, however, is key to why the involuntary manslaughter charge was revived earlier this year.

As reported by Variety at the time, prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis had the Colt .45 being held by Baldwin sent for forensic analysis. The results of that analysis, the prosecutors’ experts say, suggest that the weapon could’ve only been fired if the trigger was pulled.

The claim that he didn’t pull the trigger has been the crux of Baldwin’s argument for the past three years, although his defense team changed their tune slightly in opening arguments. On Wednesday, defense attorney Alex Spiro acknowledged for the first time that Baldwin may have, in fact, pulled the trigger — but that still wouldn’t prove his guilt.

“On a movie set, you’re allowed to pull the trigger,” Spiro said, according to Variety. “Even if he intentionally pulled the trigger… that doesn’t make him guilty of homicide.”

Instead, the defense has blamed Gutierrez-Reed and Halls for failing to ensure that the prop was safe before it reached Baldwin’s hands. They’ve also called Baldwin a “shiny object” for eager prosecutors.

The prosecution has continued to push back on the claim that Baldwin didn’t pull the trigger, and that even if he didn’t, Morrissey says “the actor has responsibility for the firearms once it is in their hands.” During opening arguments, special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson argued that Baldwin “played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rule of firearm safety,” per THR, and that his “reckless disregard for Ms. Hutchins’ safety” cost the cinematographer her life.

The prosecution has also attempted to have Baldwin’s role as a co-producer on Rust evaluated within the case, arguing that that would’ve placed extra responsibility into his hands in regards to on-set safety. The judge, however, ruled that this would not be ruled into evidence shortly before the trial began.

What’s at stake?

As mentioned, Baldwin faces prison time for his role in Hutchins’ death, but the potential repercussions of the trial don’t stop there. It could end up being a landmark trial for Hollywood in several ways.

The situation has already reinvigorated debates about the use of prop guns on sets, harkoning back to the tragic death of Brandon Lee during the production of 1994 film The Crow. In fact, Brandon’s sister, Shannon Lee, told THR shortly after Hutchins’ death that the Rust accident was “stirring up a lot of emotions — and frustration.”

It’s also placed a spotlight on the importance of on-set safety overall, especially when it comes to cinematographers. In a 2021 report highlighting the deaths of other cinematographers in addition to Hutchins’, Deadline called cinematography “the deadliest job in Hollywood.”

At a candlelight vigil for Hutchins in 2021, Michael Miller, IATSE Vice President and Director of the Motion Picture and TV Dept, said that the industry professionals were gathered “with some frustration and a little bit of anger” (via Variety).

“Anger that too often, the rush to complete productions and the cutting of corners puts safety on the backburner and puts crewmembers at risk,” Miller said.

Thumbnail credit: Photo by Ross D. Franklin – Pool/Getty Images

Alex Stedman is a Senior News Editor with IGN, overseeing entertainment reporting. When she’s not writing or editing, you can find her reading fantasy novels or playing Dungeons & Dragons.


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