July 12th, 2024

Judge rules Alec Baldwin’s role as co-producer not relevant in fatal set shooting of cinematographer


By Morgan Lee, The Associated Press on July 8, 2024.

FILE - This aerial photo shows the movie set of "Rust," at Bonanza Creek Ranch, Oct. 23, 2021, in Santa Fe, N.M. A New Mexico judge is considering an array of restrictions on evidence, testimony and arguments ahead of a trial for Alec Baldwin. The Monday, July 8, 2024, pretrial hearing sets the stage for Baldwin to appear in court this week on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

A New Mexico judge decided Monday that actor Alec Baldwin ‘s role as co-producer isn’t relevant to the involuntary manslaughter trial over a fatal shooting on the set of the Western film “Rust.”

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled that evidence won’t be allowed at trial about Baldwin’s secondary role on the movie, siding with defense attorneys.

“I’m having real difficulty with the state’s position that they want to show that as a producer he didn’t follow guidelines and therefore as an actor Mr. Baldwin did all of these things wrong that resulted in the death of Ms. Hutchins because as a producer he allowed these things to happen,” Marlowe Sommer said. “I’m denying evidence of his status as a producer.”

Special prosecutor Erlinda Johnson argued unsuccessfully to allow evidence that Baldwin’s “role as a producer made him keenly aware of his responsibilities on set” for safety.

“It goes to Mr. Baldwin’s knowledge, knowing that his conduct on set was negligent,” she said.

In the courtroom Monday, Baldwin sat between lead attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro. He thumbed briefly through papers with a yellow legal pad in front of him, wearing glasses and close-cropped hair.

The trial starts July 9 with jury selection and is scheduled to last 10 days.

Last week, the judge cleared the way for crucial firearms experts for the prosecution to testify about Baldwin’s handling of the revolver and whether the gun was functioning properly prior to the fatal shooting.

Prosecutors have argued that a state workplace safety investigation, which found serious violations on set, was incomplete, untrustworthy and should be prohibited from the trial.

Baldwin is charged with a single felony count of involuntary manslaughter punishable by up to 18 months in prison if he’s convicted.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on set, was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in cinematographer Halyna Hutchins’ death and sentenced to 18 months in prison. She is appealing the conviction.

In October 2021, Baldwin was rehearsing a cross-draw maneuver with the revolver when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and claims the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware the gun contained a live round, Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer – not the trigger – and it fired.

Baldwin’s attorneys also want to bar discussion at trial of actor Brandon Lee’s death from a fatal shot to the abdomen while filming a scene from “The Crow” in 1993. In that instance, a makeshift bullet was mistakenly left in a gun from a previous scene and struck Lee while filming a scene that called for using blank rounds.

Prosecutors have agreed not to illicit testimony about “The Crow,” but also contend that Baldwin knew about safety risks posed by guns – even when live rounds are not present. Attorneys for Baldwin argue that it was inconceivable that live rounds would wind up on set.

Prosecutors want to exclude a letter signed by crew members that disputes the characterizations of the “Rust” set as chaotic or dangerous prior to the fatal shooting.

Prosecutors also want to exclude from trial the conclusions of the safety investigation into the fatal shooting that places much of the blame on assistant director Dave Halls. Halls has pleaded no contest to negligent use of a firearm and may be called to testify at Baldwin’s trial.

Rust Movie Productions paid a $100,000 fine to resolve violations of state safety regulations that were characterized as “serious” but not willful, under a 2023 settlement agreement. Prosecutors say conclusions of the investigation are easily contradicted by more reliable information.

Baldwin’s attorneys say the report can’t be ruled out as evidence and that state occupational safety officer Lorenzo Montoya should be allowed to testify at trial.

Another pretrial motion might defuse snipping between the prosecution and defense teams. Prosecutors want the judge to preclude accusations of “prosecutorial misconduct” and “personal attacks.”

Prosecutors also want the judge to exclude evidence and arguments designed to garner sympathy for Baldwin, including indications of remorse or the impact of events on his family, arguing that it has no bearing on determining guilt.

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