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Judge rules Alec Baldwin’s role as co-producer is not relevant to trial over fatal shooting on 2021 set

By MORGAN LEE – Associated Press

A judge in New Mexico ruled Monday that Alec Baldwin’s role as producer of the Western film “Rust” was not relevant to his manslaughter trial in connection with a fatal shooting on the set.

The move is a major setback for prosecutors, coming just as the trial was set to begin. They had planned to present evidence showing that Baldwin bore special responsibility – as a co-producer, far beyond that of the actor with the gun – for the dangerous environment that led to the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal.

“I have real difficulty with the state’s position that they want to prove that as a producer he did not follow the guidelines and that therefore Mr. Baldwin as an actor did all these things wrong that led to Ms. Hutchins’ death because as a producer he allowed these things to happen,” said Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer. “I reject evidence of his status as a producer.”

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Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson unsuccessfully argued that Baldwin was “very conscious” of his safety responsibilities as a producer, seeking to support an alternative theory of guilt that goes beyond negligent use of a firearm. Prosecutors have attempted to link Baldwin’s on-set behavior to “total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.”

In the courtroom on Monday, Baldwin sat between lead attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro. He appeared to be listening intently, occasionally making notes on a yellow legal pad and passing written messages to a lawyer. Baldwin wore glasses and had short-cropped hair.

The trial begins on Tuesday with jury selection and is expected to last ten days.

Last week, the judge cleared the way for key prosecution firearms experts to testify about Baldwin’s handling of the revolver and whether the weapon was functioning properly before the fatal shooting.

On Monday, the judge sided with the prosecution and excluded from the trial the summary findings of a state workplace safety investigation that placed much of the blame on Deputy Principal Dave Halls. Halls has pleaded not guilty to negligent use of a firearm and could be called as a witness in Baldwin’s trial.

Prosecutors say the workplace safety investigation was incomplete and unreliable and whitewashed Baldwin’s responsibility in the fatal shooting.

Rust Movie Productions paid a $100,000 fine as part of a 2023 settlement agreement to resolve violations of state safety regulations that were deemed “serious” but not intentional. Several witnesses from the workplace safety investigation are likely to be called as witnesses in Baldwin’s trial.

Over defense objections, prosecutors will also be able to present images of Hutchins’ injuries from an autopsy report at trial, as well as police body camera video of the immediate aftermath of the shooting, when paramedics arrived on set to treat the injured Hutchins and Souza.

Baldwin is charged with manslaughter, for which he faces a prison sentence of up to 18 months if convicted.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the on-set gunsmith, was sentenced to 18 months in prison for manslaughter in connection with Hutchins’ death. She is appealing the verdict.

In October 2021, Baldwin was practicing a cross-draw maneuver with the revolver when a shot went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty, claiming the gun went off accidentally after he followed instructions to point it at Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Not knowing the gun contained live ammunition, Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer – not the trigger – and it went off.

Baldwin’s lawyers successfully tried to prevent the trial from discussing fatal gun incidents on film sets, including the death of actor Brandon Lee from a gunshot wound to the abdomen during filming of a scene in the 1993 movie “The Crow.” In that case, an improvised bullet from an earlier scene was accidentally left in a gun and struck Lee during filming of a scene that required the use of blanks.

Prosecutors have agreed not to take testimony about “The Crow,” but also claim that Baldwin knew about the safety risks associated with firearms – even when no live ammunition is involved.

Marlowe Sommer said she would allow only one suggestion at trial that blank cartridges without a projectile can be fatal. Baldwin’s lawyers argue that it was inconceivable that live ammunition would land on the set.

The judge sided with the prosecution and excluded from the proceedings a letter signed by crew members disputing the description that the set of “Rust” was chaotic or dangerous before the fatal shooting.

Another motion before the trial could defuse the dispute between the prosecution and the defense. The prosecutors want the judge to exclude allegations of “prosecutor misconduct” and “personal attacks.”

Marlowe Sommer said the discussion of prosecutorial misconduct at trial will be limited to witness testimony and expert analysis of the weapon used in the fatal shooting, as well as FBI forensic tests that found damage to the firing mechanism. Defense attorneys argue that potentially exculpatory evidence was destroyed.

The judge ruled that evidence and arguments designed to generate sympathy for Baldwin will also not be allowed at trial, including references to remorse or the impact of events on his family. Prosecutors say those arguments have no bearing on the finding of guilt.

A three-time Emmy winner, Baldwin has gone from star and leading man to supporting actor and scene-stealer. At times he went years without starring in a hit movie or TV show. But he’s been a household name for nearly 35 years, thanks in large part to his real-life persona: outspoken liberal, talk show guest and king of all Saturday Night Live hosts.

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