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Jury to hear opening statements in Alec Baldwin's criminal trial

SACHA PFEIFFER, HOST:

Opening arguments begin today in Alec Baldwin's criminal trial. A judge in Santa Fe, N.M., swore in a panel of jurors yesterday. Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter for the 2021 death of a cinematographer on the set of the film "Rust." NPR's Mandalit del Barco reports.

MANDALIT DEL BARCO, BYLINE: Almost three years ago, Alec Baldwin was rehearsing a scene for the indie film, holding what was supposed to be an unloaded prop gun. He would later tell authorities about pointing the Colt .45 toward the camera that cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was standing behind.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEC BALDWIN: It's supposed to be a cold gun.

DEL BARCO: A cold gun, meaning it didn't have live rounds, but a real bullet from that gun did strike Hutchins and also wounded the director, Joel Souza. Baldwin went on ABC News shortly after the incident to explain that he had been setting up the scene with Hutchins.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BALDWIN: So I take the gun, and I start to cock the gun. I'm not going to pull the trigger. I said, do you see that? She went, well, just cheat it down and tilt it down a little bit like that. And I cock the gun and go, can you see that? Can you see that? Can you see that? And she says - and then I let go of the hammer of the gun, and the gun goes off.

DEL BARCO: The 66-year-old actor maintains he never pulled the trigger and was not responsible for the live ammo. He's pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter. In March, a jury in New Mexico found the woman in charge of weapons on the film set, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, guilty of just that. Before going to prison for her 18-month sentence, the armorer read a statement to the court, saying she'd been young and naive on the job but didn't have the proper resources or time to do her job better.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HANNAH GUTIERREZ-REED: I am saddened by the way the media sensationalized our traumatic tragedy and portrayed me as a complete monster, which has actually been the total opposite of what's been in my heart.

DEL BARCO: Gutierrez-Reed is among the many witnesses who might testify during Baldwin's trial, though the judge has admitted she may not cooperate. Prosecutors may also call the film's director, script supervisor and prop master to testify about what happened on set. A few firearms experts and film armorers may take the stand, too, and some of the planned evidence includes footage of Baldwin drawing his gun during rehearsals on the set of "Rust."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

BALDWIN: Now wait a second. I'm going to shoot right. Do you want to go on the other side of the camera? I don't want to shoot toward you.

DEL BARCO: Baldwin has faced many legal twists and turns in the nearly three years since the shooting. Initial charges against him were downgraded and later dropped. He was indicted again in January of this year. In addition, the gun Baldwin used was damaged when the FBI tested it to see if it would discharge accidentally. That led his attorney, Alex Spiro, to try a last-ditch effort to try to get the case thrown out.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ALEX SPIRO: It's kind of ironic, in a case concededly about an accident, the state can somehow get away with intentionally destroying the key evidence and depriving the defense of that evidence.

DEL BARCO: During a pretrial hearing, the judge ruled that the state did not act in bad faith by having the gun tested. Alec Baldwin was also one of the film's producers, though the judge ruled this week that this case is only about his role as an actor on set. Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey says she plans to prove Baldwin didn't pay attention during on-set safety training.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

KARI MORRISSEY: Then he decided to point a gun at a human being, cock it when he wasn't told to cock it, and then, of course, he pulled the trigger, killed a woman and seriously injured someone else.

DEL BARCO: Morrissey says that's the foundation of the case against Baldwin.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MORRISSEY: Halyna Hutchins is dead. She's dead. He didn't participate in the safety check, and I'm sure that's a decision that he's grown to regret.

DEL BARCO: If Alec Baldwin is found guilty of involuntary manslaughter, he could face up to 18 months in prison. His trial is expected to last until July 19.

Mandalit del Barco, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.
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