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Judge Rules Baldwin’s Co-Producer Role Irrelevant in 'Rust' Shooting Case

Legal decision excludes Baldwin's production role from 'Rust' manslaughter trial

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Staff Writer, TLR

Published on July 10, 2024, 13:06:17

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A New Mexico judge decided that actor Alec Baldwin’s role as co-producer is not 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 about Baldwin’s secondary role in the movie would not be allowed at trial, siding with defence 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. Baldwin sat between his lead attorneys, Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro, with a yellow legal pad on the table in front of him.

Last month, Baldwin’s lawyers pushed for the case to be dismissed, arguing that FBI testing of the firearm had damaged the weapon before lawyers could examine it for possible modifications.

The defence team alleged the gun was damaged at the time of the incident and accused prosecutors of withholding potentially “exculpatory evidence.”

Sommer rejected the dismissal request, saying Baldwin’s lawyers had not proved prosecutors acted in bad faith. But the judge also said prosecutors would have to disclose to the jury the “destructive nature of the firearm testing, the resulting loss and its relevance and import.”

Defence attorneys have asked the judge to exclude consideration of Baldwin’s secondary role as a co-producer on "Rust," arguing it’s irrelevant to allegations of negligence and might confuse jurors.

Prosecutors disagree, saying it was likely Baldwin’s imposing role as a producer that emboldened him to act recklessly and disregard the safety of others in allegedly flouting gun-safety protocols.

The defence team and prosecutors disagree about Baldwin’s contractual authority as a producer over crew members who dealt with weapons and safety.

Prosecutors argue 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 is convicted.

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

In October 2021, Baldwin was rehearsing a cross-draw manoeuvre 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 towards 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 elicit 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 characterisations 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 place 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 characterised 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 cannot be ruled out as evidence and that state occupational safety officer Lorenzo Montoya should be allowed to testify at trial.

Another pre-trial 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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