Alec Baldwin manslaughter trial revolves around Wild West gun


The inner workings of a Colt .45

SANTA FE: The inner workings of a Colt .45 “Peacemaker” revolver, a symbol of the American Wild West, have become the focus of Alec Baldwin trial for the 2021 fatal shooting of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a New Mexico movie set.

Baldwin and his wife Hilaria Baldwin were among those watching in a Santa Fe, New Mexico courtroom on Tuesday as 12 jurors and four alternates – 11 women and 5 men- were chosen.

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The trial will start on Wednesday, nearly three years after Alec Baldwin pointed his gun at Hutchins as she set up a camera shot inside a movie-set church about 20 miles southwest of Santa Fe.

Prosecutors questioned prospective jurors on their knowledge of the case and a defense lawyer asked them if they had seen Baldwin’s performances and if that might influence their opinion of 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.

Hutchin’s 2021 death was Hollywood’s first on-set shooting fatality in three decades and momentarily sparked calls to end the widespread use of real firearms on movie sets.

It is remarkable in that there is little or no precedent in U.S. history for an actor to face criminal prosecution for an on-set shooting death. The “30 Rock” actor could be imprisoned for up to 18 months if found guilty.

In March, “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez, the set employee in charge of firearm safety, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a Santa Fe, New Mexico, jury for mistakenly loading a live round into Baldwin’s gun. Gutierrez received the maximum 18-month sentence.

Legal analysts and firearms specialists had long expected Baldwin’s case to hinge on whether he should have inspected the gun after he was told it was “cold,” an industry term meaning it was empty or contained inert, dummy rounds.

But in a pivotal interview in December 2021, Baldwin told ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos he did not pull the trigger.

Baldwin, 66, said he cocked the reproduction 1873 Single Action Army pistol before it fired a live round that killed the rising-star cinematographer and wounded director Joel Souza.

Santa Fe police set out to test Baldwin’s claims. An FBI examination found the gun worked normally and would not fire at full cock without the trigger pulled. State prosecutors filed charges thereafter, alleging Baldwin was lying about the trigger.

Baldwin’s legal team last year countered with photographic evidence the Italian-made Pietta gun’s full-cock notch had been filed down, making it easier to fire. That allowed a mechanical failure or “accidental discharge” without a trigger pull, they said.

Whether the revolver was modified, legal experts see an uphill battle for the prosecution to prove Baldwin knew he could kill Hutchins but showed willful disregard to the risk – a level of criminal negligence required 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 who is executive director of the University of Wyoming Firearms Research Center.

Prosecutors last year dropped charges, convinced the gun was modified. Prosecutors went to a grand jury that reinstated charges in January after an independent firearms expert confirmed findings of the FBI examination.

The FBI destroyed the gun during testing. The actor’s lawyers said that left them with no way to prove it was modified.

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Baldwin’s best defense may be doubts his lawyers can sow about the workings of the pistol, according to Hlebinsky.

“I don’t think anyone can say 100 per cent what happened,” said the firearms historian, who has acted as an expert in court cases on single action Colt. 45 type revolvers similar to Baldwin’s.

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