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Testimony begins in Alec Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial

By Chris Benson & Sheri Walsh
Alec Baldwin (pictured in 2023 in New York City), who was both acting in and producing the movie "Rust," faces charges stemming from the fatal shooting incident in which Baldwin was rehearsing a scene with a revolver when the gun discharged a live bullet, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. File Photo by Peter Foley/UPI
1 of 2 | Alec Baldwin (pictured in 2023 in New York City), who was both acting in and producing the movie "Rust," faces charges stemming from the fatal shooting incident in which Baldwin was rehearsing a scene with a revolver when the gun discharged a live bullet, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. File Photo by Peter Foley/UPI | License Photo

July 10 (UPI) -- The first full day of actor Alec Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial got underway Wednesday in New Mexico with opening statements and the first testimony. Jurors saw four witnesses take the stand, heard the 911 call after the shooting and watched body camera footage of the response.

The trial is scheduled to resume for a second day Thursday at 10:30 a.m. EDT.

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On Wednesday, the prosecution called witness Santa Fe Police officer Nicholas Lefleur, who was the first law enforcement officer at the scene to respond to the 911 call after the Rust movie set shooting.

Lefleur testified that he told Baldwin to stop talking as he was detained over concerns that the witnesses could possibly taint their statements about what happened on the set.

Lefleur's body camera video of the response was then shown to jurors. The video showed first responders wheeling Halyna Hutchins out of the movie set's church on a stretcher and loading her into an ambulance. Hutchins later died of her injuries. The video then shows director Joel Souza, who was injured in the shooting, being wheeled off the set.

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"I was holding the gun, yeah," Baldwin is seen telling Lefleur as armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed can be seen crying as she identifies rounds that were used.

On cross examination, the defense played the 911 call. A script supervisor can be heard saying, "we've had two people accidentally shot on a movie set by a prop gun. We need help immediately."

The defense also asked Lefleur about the mistakes he made that day and questioned whether Baldwin defied his order not to speak to others.

"He wasn't really disobeying police orders was he, sir?" Defense attorney Alex Spiro asked.

"To an extent, yes," LeFleur responded.

Special Prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson called a second witness, Timoteo Benavidez, who is a retired lieutenant with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office. He testified that he secured the gun from the film's armorer and ensured there were no more rounds before placing it in his patrol car.

Detective Joseph Lujan testified for the prosecution about how Souza was treated for his injury.

The fourth witness was a crime scene tech with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, Marissa Poppell, who testified Wednesday about taking photographs and collecting evidence inside the church set, including Baldwin's holster, which held one live round of ammunition.

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Earlier Wednesday, Judge Mary Marlow Sommer opened the trial in Santa Fe with a reading of Baldwin's grand jury indictment and instructions to the jury, which was selected Tuesday.

Along with the actor's wife, Hilaria, Baldwin's brother Stephen Baldwin was also in the New Mexico courtroom in a show of support.

"The trial is expected to last eight days," the judge told jurors before opening statements began.

"When someone plays make believe with a real gun in a real-life workplace and while playing make believe with that gun, violates the cardinal rules of firearm safety, people's lives are endangered, and someone could be killed," Johnson said in her opening statement. "Ladies and gentlemen, that's what this case is about. It's simple. It's straightforward."

Johnson told the jury Baldwin allegedly asked to be given the "biggest gun" available. The gun, she told jurors, was sold to the film crew in "perfect" working order, and that Baldwin routinely failed to do safety checks and, likewise, failed to do so the day Hutchins was fatally shot in 2021 on the Rust set.

"He pointed the gun at another human being, cocked the hammer and pulled that trigger, in reckless disregard for Ms. Hutchins' safety," Johnson said. "The only true and just verdict in this case, so that true justice can be served, is a verdict of guilty to involuntary manslaughter."

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Baldwin, who was both acting in and producing the movie, faces charges stemming from the incident in which he was rehearsing a scene with a revolver when the gun discharged a live bullet, killing Hutchins and injuring Souza. If convicted, Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison.

"You will learn that one of the rounds in that revolver was a real round, and the evidence will show that Ms. Gutierrez then handed the gun to the defendant," Johnson said. "And what you will learn is that, once again, the defendant failed to do a gun safety check with this armorer."

Baldwin was practicing what's known as a cross-draw in a church on the movie set when the gun fired a live round, striking Hutchins and Souza. The gun in question was supposed to have been loaded with blanks, but a live round was in the gun.

Baldwin has maintained that he did not pull the trigger when the gun went off and denied responsibility for Hutchins' death on the grounds that there were supposed to be no live rounds on set, while prosecutors argued Baldwin disregarded the risks by declining to participate in the armorer's safety check and that he handled the gun in a way that the rehearsal did not require.

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"You'll see the video footage of the multiple occasions during which the defendant used this firearm on the set, and each time he fired it, it was working just fine," the prosecution told the jury. "And in fact, you'll hear evidence that the defendant himself admitted in December of 2021 that this gun didn't have any mechanical problems."

An independent report last year insisted it was nearly impossible for the weapon to fire without the trigger being pulled. That report hinted that Baldwin possibly could face manslaughter charges.

Meanwhile, Baldwin's defense tried to shift the focus as to how a live bullet got into the gun in the first place when it was not supposed to be there, saying Baldwin committed no crime.

"This was an unspeakable tragedy, but Alec Baldwin committed no crime," Spiro said. "He was an actor, acting. Playing the role of Harland Rust. An actor playing a character can act in ways that are lethal, that just aren't lethal on a movie set."

Spiro placed blame on the armorer and David Halls, the first assistant director of Rust at the time, who admitted that he was "negligent" by failing to check safety measures as Baldwin's defense the actor could not have been responsible for Hutchins' death, as actors are expected to rely on professionals to ensure the safe handling of weapons on set.

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"Everybody on a movie set has a role," Spiro told the court Wednesday. "The armorer armors. The director directs. The actor acts. They work in harmony, but they have a division of responsibility."

He pointed out how on a movie set, "you're allowed to pull the trigger," but that even if Baldwin did intentionally pull the trigger as he claims he did not, "that doesn't make him guilty of homicide."

"He did not know, or have any reason to know, that gun was loaded with a live bullet," Spiro told the jury.

This trial begins as it was recently announced the 66-year-old actor and his wife landed their own TLC reality show, The Baldwins, expected to premiere next year as the trial would have likely been over for several months by that point.

The TLC announcement followed the news how the judge presiding over the involuntary manslaughter case had denied Baldwin's request to dismiss the charge.

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