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JAN MOIR: High noon for Alec Baldwin: Next week, he will face court after accidentally shooting a woman dead on film. But as a fully paid up member of the liberal elite who loves to mock Trump, his case is now at the centre of America’s culture war

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At some point in the next few days, Alec Baldwin will fly into New Mexico to take on one of the most important roles in his life — as the accused.

On Tuesday, at the First Judicial District Court here in downtown Santa Fe, the trial opens in the case of the State v Alexander Rae Baldwin, in which the Emmy award-winning actor is charged with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins, a cinematographer working on the set of his cowboy-themed film, Rust.

When the accident happened in October 2021, Baldwin was the lead actor and co-producer of the low budget production being made at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a movie location facility about 20 miles south of the courtroom, on the road to Albuquerque. He was pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to the charge, but given that two others have already been convicted over this terrible death, he could be forgiven for feeling just a little bit nervous. If found guilty, the 66-year-old film and television star could be sentenced to 18 months in jail.

Emmy award-winning actor Alec Baldwin is charged with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins in October 2021

Emmy award-winning actor Alec Baldwin is charged with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins in October 2021

Ms Hutchins, 42, was a cinematographer working on the set of Baldwin's cowboy film, Rust

Ms Hutchins, 42, was a cinematographer working on the set of Baldwin’s cowboy film, Rust

At its core, this is a trial about the tragic, accidental killing of 42-year-old Hutchins, who leaves husband Matthew, son Andros (12) and a grieving family in Kyiv, in her native Ukraine.

Her relatives there support the criminal prosecution of Baldwin and are seeking damages in her death, as you might expect. Yet, in a very Hollywood development, so too is Cherlyn Schaefer, the Rust on-set medic who attended to the dying cinematographer. 

Schaefer has sued for emotional distress, claiming she suffered ‘tremendous’ trauma after trying to keep Hutchins alive. In May 2023, she won a partial settlement of £900,0000 that her lawyer said was ‘a small portion of what we expect to receive in the future’.

However, it is also a trial that sits right in the crosshairs of American culture — encompassing gun controls and party politics, celebrity privileges and exceptionalism, coastal elites versus the heartlands. Some see it as a showdown between the principled, tenacious local prosecutors in New Mexico versus the kind of hotshot New York City lawyers who will stop at nothing to save their famous clients. 

Others argue that it is less about justice for Halyna and more about trying to teach ‘arrogant’ film star Alec a lesson. There have even been parallels drawn with the recent court case against Donald Trump, suggesting that with the increasing politicisation of US courts, sometimes it is not what you did but who you are that really matters.

Like Trump, Baldwin is a divisive figure in America. Charismatic but thin-skinned, the star of films such as The Hunt For Red October along with the hit television series 30 Rock, is known to be volatile and no stranger to controversy.

Past tumults include the acrimonious 2002 divorce from his first wife, the actress Kim Basinger. Then there was the notorious leaked voicemail from 2007, in which he called their daughter Ireland, then aged 11, ‘a rude, thoughtless little pig’.

Today, Baldwin has seven children with his second wife Hilaria, and the family have recently signed up to make a reality television series called The Baldwins, to be broadcast next year. It is the kind of commercial venture that Baldwin, who reveres being a theatre actor above all, would once have dismissed out of hand. 

Yet being a man who shot a woman, even if it was a terrible accident, has made him box office kryptonite. For the moment, he must take what he can get.

Of course, the great irony is that Baldwin is an East Coast liberal, a devoted, fundraising Democrat who has long advocated for tighter controls on firearms. This latter paradox was gleefully seized upon by his Republican-supporting enemies, who have long loathed Baldwin for his caustic impersonations of Trump on NBC’s comedy show, Saturday Night Live.

Baldwin was pointing this gun at Ms Hutchins during a rehearsal when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza

Baldwin was pointing this gun at Ms Hutchins during a rehearsal when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza

When the accident happened, Baldwin was the lead actor and co-producer of the low budget production film being made at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a movie location on the road to Albuquerque

When the accident happened, Baldwin was the lead actor and co-producer of the low budget production film being made at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a movie location on the road to Albuquerque

Indeed, after the shooting, the former president was quick to gobble down a tasty tidbit of revenge. In a podcast, Trump baselessly claimed the shooting might have been ‘intentional’ and called Baldwin ‘a nutjob’. His son, Donald Trump Jnr, went on to offer £22 T-shirts on his website that read ‘Guns don’t kill people, Alec Baldwin kills people’ — cheap mockery of a woman’s death.

Still, there are plenty out there who would love nothing more than to see Alec Baldwin brought low, and that must include special prosecutor Kari Morrissey. 

During the trial, she will allege that Baldwin caused Hutchins’s death either by negligence or ‘total disregard or indifference’ for safety, and has described the cash-strapped Rust set as a ‘cascade of safety violations’ where corners were being cut to save time and money — with fatal results.

Over the past year, Rust assistant director Dave Halls and Rust armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed have both been successfully prosecuted by Morrissey. Halls entered a plea bargain in 2023 for negligent use of a deadly weapon and was given a six-month suspended sentence. It was his job to check that the antique-style Colt 45 revolver handed to him by Gutierrez-Reed was safe and contained only dummy rounds or was empty. He did not do this.

‘I let a safety check pass,’ said Halls, at times wiping away tears when he was giving evidence at Gutierrez-Reed’s trial. Back then it was the prosecution’s allegation that it was Gutierrez who unknowingly brought the live rounds onto the set and then failed to spot them or follow gun safety protocols. 

After the jury found her guilty in April, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer awarded her the maximum sentence of 18 months and castigated the young armourer for her lack of remorse towards the Hutchins family and for her recklessness.

‘Did she have enough time to load the weapon safely? Plenty,’ the judge said. ‘Did she load the weapon? Yes — with dummies and a live round. Did she check what she was loading? No.’

So now it is Alec Baldwin’s turn to face Judge Sommer whose looks and no-nonsense manner are inescapably reminiscent of Judge Judy, the brisk dispatcher of justice on her popular, eponymous daytime TV show.

Over the past year, Sommer has repeatedly blocked appeals by Baldwin’s lawyers to have the trial dismissed. As recently as last week, his legal team argued that the trial should not go ahead because the FBI had destroyed vital evidence — the literal smoking gun at the centre of the tragedy. FBI experts were testing the gun in an attempt to verify or otherwise Baldwin’s claim it must have been faulty because he never pulled the trigger.

Rust armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed wipes away tears at her sentencing at the New Mexico district court. The jury found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in April

Rust armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed wipes away tears at her sentencing at the New Mexico district court. The jury found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter in April

Being a man who shot a woman, even if it was a terrible accident, has made Baldwin box office kryptonite, for the moment, so he must take what he can get, writes Jan Moir

Being a man who shot a woman, even if it was a terrible accident, has made Baldwin box office kryptonite, for the moment, so he must take what he can get, writes Jan Moir

To do this, they repeatedly hit the gun with a mallet to see what would happen, and what actually happened was that the gun got completely destroyed. No dice, said Judge Sommer, ruling that defence theories about the gun were largely speculative, and not backed by substantial evidence.

So, the wheels of justice grind on as the final trial in this ongoing sadness begins — in this series of entirely preventable events that have proved to be such a tragedy for all involved, including Alec Baldwin himself.

For surely only the hardest heart could fail to have a drop of human sympathy for him, too. In recent months he has looked desolate, hollowed out, exhausted. A recent hip replacement hasn’t helped.

To defend him at this pivotal moment in his life, Baldwin has hired Alex Spiro, known as the A-list lawyer to the elite. Tall and formidable, the 41-year-old New Yorker is one of the most famous trial lawyers in the U.S.

Friends say he rarely loses a case, critics say that is because he is careful about which clients he chooses to defend. He has successfully acted for rapper Megan Thee Stallion, for Jay-Z and in 2019 successfully defended Elon Musk after the billionaire called British Thai cave rescuer Vernon Unsworth ‘a pedo guy’ in a tweet. 

Musk was furious that the midget submarine he had sent to help save the trapped children was described by Unsworth as a ‘PR stunt’ on a CNN report.

Never mind that Unsworth played an crucial role in saving the lives of 13 boys and their teacher, Spiro dazzled the jury with a legal argument that somehow convinced them Musk was the victim and Unsworth was the glory grabber. 

In an interview with The New Yorker magazine last year, Spiro outlined his winning courtroom strategy. ‘I was going to tell the story of how he [Musk] went there to save these kids, not about the f****** spelunker [cave explorer] who tried to steal the spotlight.’ What can I say? He’s not exactly Atticus Finch.

‘I have a photographic memory — that’s my special secret sauce,’ he also boasted.

Next week in court, Baldwin will have to travel back in time to that fateful afternoon in October 2021, in the last days of the Rust shoot.

Baldwin has seven children with his second wife Hilaria, and the family have recently signed up to make a reality television series called The Baldwins, to be broadcast next year

Baldwin has seven children with his second wife Hilaria, and the family have recently signed up to make a reality television series called The Baldwins, to be broadcast next year

Just after lunch, he was rehearsing a scene inside a church on the movie ranch, practising a cross-draw with the ill-fated prop gun that no one knew had been loaded with a live bullet. When the gun fired, the noise inside the small wooden church was deafening. As Hutchins collapsed, Baldwin initially thought she had fainted.

‘I can’t feel one of my legs,’ she said and the horror of what had happened began to dawn on assembled cast and crew. The bullet passed through Hutchins’s body and into the shoulder of Joel Souza, who was next to her.

‘I got up behind her just to try to see on the monitor and there was an incredibly loud bang,’ he told the court during the Gutierrez trial. His shoulder hurt so much, he thought that someone had ‘set about me with a baseball bat’.

Scenes of chaos followed. Hutchins was initially treated by on-set medic Cherlyn Schaefer, who’d been sitting outside the church. She cut open Halyna’s jacket, and, as best she could, treated the injury she described as a ‘through and through wound’, then called emergency services.

Even with a helicopter, it took 90 minutes to get Hutchins to a hospital in Albuquerque, where doctors could not save her. ‘My children have to walk on eggshells around me,’ said Schaefer at the hearing of her negligence claim. You can’t help but think that at least they still have a mother, unlike poor Andros Hutchins.

And yes, celebrities like Baldwin don’t usually end up in prison, but the world is watching this trial. How will it look on the global stage if the only person to go to jail was an inexperienced armourer who was 23 at the time, barely four years over the legal age of holding a gun permit in New Mexico. It was only Gutierrez-Reed’s second film, for which she was paid a total of £6,200. (Baldwin paid himself £196,000 for his dual role, a fraction of his usual fees).

She is a nepo-baby, daughter of film armourer Thell Reed, an 81-year-old legend who began working with Gene Autry and still holds the American quick draw record. He is known as a gun coach to the stars and his famous pupils include Brad Pitt and Russell Crowe.

At his daughter’s trial, Reed, turned up, complete with Wild West moustache and bolo tie, to give a statement. He said that while the shooting was a ‘horrible tragedy for that wonderful lady,’ it would also be a ‘tragedy to put my daughter Hannah in a penitentiary for that’.

However, the penitentiary is exactly where Judge Sommer put her — and from New Mexico Women’s Correctional Facility Hannah Gutierrez-Reed is currently appealing her sentence.

Now it is her former boss’s turn to stare down the twin barrels of justice and destiny.

Santa Fe in July is not where Alec Baldwin wants to be. The state capital sits 7,000 feet above sea level, grilled in summer by a dry desert heat. Baldwin grew up thousands of miles from here on the briny Atlantic shore.

In his autobiography Nevertheless, he wrote that coming from Long Island meant summer was ‘a celebration of beach, boats and sunsets’, something that ‘felt like a birthright’ to him.

If things were going well in Baldwin’s life, if everything was normal and good, he’d be in his beloved £20 million estate in Amagansett in the Hamptons, 70 miles east and a world away from the working-class town he once called home. He’d be there with Hilaria and the kids, enjoying picnics of lobster rolls and trips in his speedboat, skimming over the minty green waves and letting the salt breeze blow all his cares away.

‘Please don’t vomit’, he once pleaded with an interviewer, before going on to explain that for him the most relaxing places on earth were being on a theatre stage or on his boat.

Today, nobody is offering choice roles on Broadway, the boat is tied up and the Amagansett house is up for sale because lawyers like Alex Spiro don’t come cheap, especially when they splash that special sauce around. No one knows what will happen now, except that next week in Santa Fe, half a continent away from the nearest stretch of ocean, Alec Baldwin will finally face his own high noon in the high desert.



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