Alec Baldwin's trial for 'Rust' manslaughter case begins. Jury selected

In this image taken from pool video, actor Alec Baldwin, left, appears for a pretrial hearing Monday, July 8, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M. The actor's involuntary manslaughter trial starts July 9 with jury selection. (Court TV via AP, Pool)
Alec Baldwin, left, and attorney Luke Nikas, during a pretrial hearing in Santa Fe. (Court TV via AP, Pool)

Alec Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial is set to begin Wednesday after prosecutors and defense attorneys spent hours quizzing dozens of potential jurors before picking the panel that will ultimately decide the actor's fate.

Tuesday evening, 12 jurors and four alternates were seated after a day of questioning at the Santa Fe County District Courthouse. Eleven women and five men make up the jury.

Baldwin, who was indicted by a grand jury in January, has pleaded not guilty to the felony charge stemming from the Oct. 21, 2021, accidental shooting during the filming of the western movie "Rust." The film's 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins died that day from the gunshot wound.

On Tuesday, the 66-year-old actor-producer sat attentively at the defense table, frequently making notes on a paper pad. He was flanked by members of his legal team who, along with prosecutors, faced a large pool of potential jurors.

Baldwin's wife, Hilaria, and his brother Stephen Baldwin sat in a back row of the courtroom.

Read more: Full coverage: The fatal shooting of Halyna Hutchins on the ‘Rust’ set

The eight-day trial will be broadcast live by Court TV.

The stakes are high. If found guilty, Baldwin could spend up to 18 months in prison. The outcome could also weigh heavily on his career. Baldwin has said that he has lost acting roles since the tragedy. Baldwin did not realize the gun he was holding during a rehearsal contained live ammunition.

Tuesday's session began with 70 potential jurors ushered into an assembly room. First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer opened the session by swearing in the panel. She described the involuntary manslaughter charge against the defendant as a "negligent use of a firearm."

Jurors were asked if they were familiar with the case. All but three raised their hands.

Read more: Key question at Alec Baldwin's criminal trial: Is he to blame for Halyna Hutchins' death?

Special prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey, who has spearheaded the case on behalf of the local district attorney, wanted to know whether jurors worked in the film industry, had "strong feelings about firearms" or possessed a concealed weapons permit. She asked for them to self-evaluate whether they could be fair and impartial.

Baldwin's attorney, Alex Spiro, asked if it would be difficult for jurors to make decisions without sympathy for the case's tragic elements. He also wanted to know whether any potential juror "had an issue" with people who relied on experts.

The actor has said he was not responsible for Hutchins' death. He maintains that he was relying on the on-set professionals who were in charge of safety, including the film's weapons expert Hannah Gutierrez and assistant director David Halls.

Gutierrez, who was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in March, loaded the gun the day Hutchins died. Halls accepted a plea deal, in which he pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon. He was sentence to a suspended six-month sentence of probation.

Several prospective jurors pushed back on Spiro's thesis, saying that gun users needed to check their own weapons. One man strenuously rejected the concept of relying on experts.

"It doesn't take a brain scientist to make sure a gun is real and loaded," he said. A few minutes later, another juror said he was always taught to "treat any gun, real or fake, as a loaded gun."

Read more: Alec Baldwin is on trial for 'Rust' shooting: How did we get here?

Experts predict the eight-day trial could be the most-publicized criminal prosecution in New Mexico’s 112-year history.

More than 40 journalists — from television networks and news outlets across the country — packed another courtroom on Tuesday to monitor the jury selection, via closed-circuit TV.

On Monday, the judge ruled that prosecutors could not make an issue during the trial of Baldwin's dual role as a producer on the film. Prosecutors wanted to assert that he was partially responsible for maintaining a safe work environment and that he should have recognized the armorer was struggling with her duties overseeing the guns.

Production of the movie finished in Montana last year, but “Rust” doesn’t have a release date. Producers have said they hope to debut "Rust" at a major film festival but, for now, the criminal proceedings have clouded its prospects.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.