NATIONAL NEWS

Alec Baldwin’s involuntary manslaughter trial begins with jury selection

Jul 8, 2024, 9:12 PM | Updated: Jul 9, 2024, 4:34 pm

Actor Alec Baldwin, left, sits with his lawyers Luke Nikas, second right, and Heather LeBlanc in Di...

Actor Alec Baldwin, left, sits with his lawyers Luke Nikas, second right, and Heather LeBlanc in District Court in Santa Fe, N.M., during a preliminary hearing for the "Rust" trial on Monday, July 8, 2024. Baldwin faces a single charge of involuntary manslaughter in the death of a cinematographer on the set of the film, "Rust." (Luis Sánchez Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(Luis Sánchez Saturno/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Alec Baldwin’s trial in the shooting of a cinematographer is set to begin Tuesday with the selection of jurors who will be tasked with deciding whether the actor is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Getting chosen to serve in a trial of such a major star accused of such a major crime would be unusual even in Los Angeles or Baldwin’s hometown of New York. But it will be essentially an unheard-of experience for those who are picked as jurors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, though the state has increasingly become a hub of Hollywood production in recent years.

Baldwin, 66, could get up to 18 months in prison if jurors unanimously decide he committed the felony when a revolver he was pointing at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza during a rehearsal for the Western film “Rust” in October 2021 at Bonanza Creek Ranch, some 18 miles (29 kilometers) from where the trial is being held.

Baldwin has said 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.

The star of “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” made his first appearance in the courtroom on Monday, when Judge Mary Marlowe Summer, in a significant victory for the defense, ruled at a pretrial hearing that Baldwin’s role as a co-producer on “Rust” isn’t relevant to the trial.

The judge has said that the special circumstances of a celebrity trial shouldn’t keep jury selection from moving quickly, and that opening statements should begin Wednesday.

“I’m not worried about being able to pick a jury in one day,” Marlowe Summer said. “I think we’re going to pick a jury by the afternoon.”

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey, however, was dubious that Baldwin’s lawyers, with whom she has clashed in the run-up to the trial, would make that possible.

“It is my guess that with this group of defense attorneys, that’s not gonna happen,” Morrissey said at the hearing.

Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro replied, “I’ve never not picked a jury in one day. I can’t imagine that this would be the first time.”

Dozens of prospective jurors will be brought into the courtroom for questioning Tuesday morning. Cameras that will carry the rest of the proceedings will be turned off to protect their privacy. Jurors are expected to get the case after a nine-day trial.

Attorneys will be able to request they be dismissed for conflicts or other causes. The defense under state law can dismiss up to five jurors without giving a reason, the prosecution three. More challenges will be allowed when four expected alternates are chosen.

Before Marlowe Sommer’s ruling Monday, prosecutors had hoped to highlight Baldwin’s safety obligations on the set as co-producer to bolster an alternative theory of guilt beyond his alleged negligent use of a firearm. They aimed to link Baldwin’s behavior to “total disregard or indifference for the safety of others” under the involuntary manslaughter law.

But the prosecution managed other wins Monday. They successfully argued for the exclusion of summary findings from a state workplace safety investigation that placed much of the blame on the film’s assistant director, shifting fault away from Baldwin.

And the judge ruled that they could show graphic images from Hutchins’ autopsy, and from police lapel cameras during the treatment of her injuries.

___

Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

___ For more coverage of Alec Baldwin’s involuntary manslaughter trial, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/alec-baldwin

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