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Alec Baldwin’s manslaughter trial begins with jury selection

By MORGAN LEE and ANDREW DALTON – Associated Press

SANTA FE, NM (AP) — The trial of Alec Baldwin in the shooting death of a cameraman is set to begin Tuesday with jury selection to decide whether the actor is guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

Even in Los Angeles or Baldwin’s hometown of New York, it would be unusual to sit in on a trial of such a big star accused of such a serious crime. But for jurors in Santa Fe, New Mexico, it will be an unprecedented experience, even though the state has become a growing center of Hollywood production in recent years.

Baldwin, 66, faces up to 18 months in prison if the jury unanimously decides that he committed the crime when a gun he pointed at camerawoman Halyna Hutchins went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza. The incident occurred in October 2021 during a rehearsal for the western film “Rust” at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, about 18 miles from the trial site.

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Baldwin said the gun accidentally fired 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 a shot fired.

The star of “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October” appeared in the courtroom for the first time on Monday when Judge Mary Marlowe Summer ruled in a pretrial hearing that Baldwin’s role as co-producer of “Rust” was not relevant to the trial in a key victory for the defense.

The judge said the unique circumstances of a celebrity trial should not interfere with speedy jury selection and that opening arguments should begin Wednesday.

“I’m not worried about whether we’ll be able to select the jury in one day,” Marlowe Summer said. “I think we’ll select a jury by the afternoon.”

However, special investigator Kari Morrissey expressed doubts that Baldwin’s lawyers, with whom she had clashed in the run-up to the trial, would allow this to happen.

“I suspect that’s not going to happen with this group of defense attorneys,” Morrissey said at the hearing.

Baldwin’s attorney Alex Spiro responded: “I have never had a jury not selected in one day. I can’t imagine this would be the first time.”

Dozens of potential jurors will be brought into the courtroom for questioning Tuesday morning. The cameras broadcasting the rest of the proceedings will be turned off to protect their privacy. Jurors are expected to be given the case after a nine-day trial.

Attorneys can request to be dismissed for conflicts of interest or other reasons. The defense can dismiss up to five jurors without cause under state law, and the prosecution can dismiss three. Additional dismissals will be allowed when four replacements are expected to be selected.

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

But on Monday, the prosecution scored another victory, successfully arguing that it should disregard the findings of a government workplace safety investigation that placed much of the blame on the assistant director, thereby deflecting blame away from Baldwin.

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

Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

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