SANTA FE, Feb 23 — Lawyers blamed Alec Baldwin for the fatal shooting on the set of Western film Rust in opening statements yesterday, as they defended the movie’s armourer from prosecutors’ allegations she was “unprofessional and sloppy.”

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died from her injuries after being hit by a live round fired from a gun Baldwin was holding during a rehearsal in New Mexico in 2021.

Baldwin, the lead actor and a producer on Rust, is awaiting his own manslaughter trial at the same Santa Fe court. He has pleaded not guilty and insisted he did not pull the trigger, saying that as an actor, he should have been able to rely on the professionals around him.

But the Hollywood A-lister was at the heart of arguments made by the defence for armourer Hannah Gutierrez, who was responsible for weapons on set and is the first person to go on trial over the tragedy.

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“Mr Baldwin, one of the lead producers, head actor on the movie — he really controlled the set. You’re going to hear that he violated some of the most basic gun safety rules you can ever learn,” said defence lawyer Jason Bowles.

“He violated all of those. It wasn’t Miss Gutierrez-Reed. It was Mr Baldwin.”

Gutierrez, also known as Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, has denied involuntary manslaughter.

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The prosecution opened its case by portraying Gutierrez as consistently “unprofessional and sloppy”.

Prosecutor Jason Lewis alleged Gutierrez failed to properly check Baldwin’s gun, frequently rushed or skipped safety procedures, and routinely left guns and ammo unattended on set.

“The evidence will show that the defendant treated the safety protocols as if they were optional, rather than that people’s lives counted on her doing her job correctly,” said Lewis.

‘Are they OK?’

Prosecutors showed graphic footage from a police bodycam of some of Hutchins’ final moments, as she lay barely moving on the floor of the movie set’s chapel, being treated by medics.

By her side director Joel Souza, who was also shot in the incident but survived, is heard in the video groaning in severe pain, while a silent Hutchins is carried out and loaded into an ambulance.

A second video showed Gutierrez panicking and repeating “Oh my God,” “Sorry” and “Are they OK?” as she hands the gun to police, before being asked to wait alone in a police car, where she begins hyperventilating.

Attending court Thursday, Gutierrez — dressed in a dark grey suit jacket and pants, and with her formerly bright purple-and-green hair now a natural brown — looked composed as she watched the video, and did not speak.

One of the key questions surrounding the death of Hutchins is how a live bullet found its way onto set and into Baldwin’s gun.

Prosecutors showed a photo of Gutierrez that they said showed a live round in a case resting on her lap more than a week before the incident.

“This means that the live ammunition could not have been... supplied by somebody other than Miss Gutierrez,” said Lewis.

But defence lawyer Bowles disputed the evidence, arguing it is not possible to distinguish a live round from a dummy round purely on the evidence of photos.

‘Scapegoat’

The trial is the latest attempt to hold someone accountable for an on-set tragedy that sent shockwaves through Hollywood and led to calls for a tightening of rules around the use of firearms in movies.

Bowles pointed to alleged gaps in evidence collected by police investigating the incident, and said the movie’s producers wanted to make Gutierrez a “scapegoat”.

He said Gutierrez had been tasked with two jobs — a props assistant and an armourer.

She had been performing tasks like rolling “cowboy cigarettes” instead of being allowed to spend time on weapons safety, he told jurors.

Evidence would show that having “a part-time armourer” on a film with so many weapons was “a terrible idea, but that’s what they did,” said Bowles.

“The primary thing here was ‘rush, get this done, so we get the money’,” he added. “And that’s all on production. And Mr. Baldwin is one of the primary producers.”

The Gutierrez trial is expected to last two weeks. Baldwin could appear in court for his own trial within months. — AFP