LOS AGELES (AFP): Hollywood star Alec Baldwin pleaded not guilty Thursday to manslaughter over the death of a cinematographer who was shot on the set of low-budget Western “Rust.”
The actor also agreed terms with the court that will allow him to complete filming of the movie, including a ban on using guns and on drinking alcohol.
Baldwin was holding a Colt .45 during rehearsals for the film in New Mexico when it discharged, killing Halyna Hutchins in October 2021.
Director Joel Souza was wounded in the incident.
The US actor had been expected to make his first court appearance on Friday, but made an administrative filing on Thursday waiving that right and entering his plea.
Both Baldwin — a co-producer and the lead actor — and the film’s armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for the weapon on set, face two alternative counts of voluntary manslaughter.
Prosecutors often level alternative charges because it increases the likelihood of a conviction, giving a jury greater scope to return a guilty verdict.
If found guilty, they face up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
An enhancement to the charge that could have increased the maximum sentence by five years was dropped by New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies this week.
Baldwin, 64, has repeatedly said he was told by the crew that the gun was not loaded.
The former “30 Rock” star has also previously insisted he did not pull the trigger, though FBI firearms experts have said this is not possible.
Baldwin’s attorney Luke Nikas has vowed to beat the charge, which he called a “terrible miscarriage of justice.”
“Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set,” he said.
“He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
Lawyers for Gutierrez-Reed have said they are confident the young armorer will be cleared.
Assistant director Dave Halls, who handed Baldwin the weapon and told him it was “cold” — industry speak for safe — has previously agreed to plead guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon.
He will serve a suspended sentence and six months of probation.
– No guns, drink –
Documents filed on Thursday show Baldwin is out on bail ahead of any future trial, with several conditions.
These include that he will not drink alcohol, and that he will not possess firearms or dangerous weapons.
He is also barred from having contact with any witnesses in the case, save from “in connection with completing the ‘Rust’ movie.”
Producers announced last year that the project would be restarted, with all principal players resuming their roles.
That includes Baldwin and Souza, who said he would devote his work on the film “to honoring Halyna’s legacy and making her proud.”
A lengthy investigation into the incident looked at how the live round — and five others — got onto the set, and how it ended up in a prop gun.
After announcing the charges in January, Carmack-Altwies said the production had a “fast and loose” attitude to safety, with those live rounds mixed in with dummy rounds.
“And then they somehow got loaded into a gun handed off to Alec Baldwin. He didn’t check it. He didn’t do any of the things that he was supposed to do to make sure that he was safe or that anyone around him was safe.
“And then he pointed the gun at Halyna Hutchins and he pulled the trigger.”
The accident sent shockwaves through Hollywood and led to calls for a total ban of real guns on set.
Industry experts have said there are already stringent safety rules in place, but that they were ignored.
Baldwin and other figures involved in the production face a raft of civil claims, including from the Ukrainian family of 42-year-old Hutchins.
The “It’s Complicated” star, last year reached an undisclosed settlement with Hutchins’ widower.