As opening statements began Wednesday in the long-awaited Rust trial of Alec Baldwin, prosecutors and defence lawyers tried to paint him in different lights — as a safety-negligent leader, and an innocent actor playing a part.

Baldwin, 66, is on trial in Santa Fe, N.M., for involuntary manslaughter over the October 2021 on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Hutchins, 42, was struck and killed by a single “live round” fired from Baldwin’s gun as he rehearsed in front of a camera. Rust writer and director Joel Souza was also injured in the incident.

Baldwin and his lawyers have repeatedly insisted the firing was accidental, and that real ammunition should have never been brought onto the set. Regardless, prosecutors said Baldwin was reckless and broke the “cardinal rules of firearm safety.”

Baldwin, who has pleaded not guilty, is the star and a co-producer of the western drama Rust. He could face up to 18 months in prison if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter.

“When someone plays make-believe with a real gun in a real-life workplace, and while playing make-believe with that gun, violates the cardinal rules of firearm safety, people’s lives are in danger and someone could be killed,” prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson told the 16-member jury.

Johnson called the case “simple” and “straightforward.”

The courtroom was packed with spectators and members of the media, with Baldwin’s wife Hilaria, his brother Stephen, and his older sister Elizabeth Keuchler also seated in the gallery.

Hilaria Baldwin caresses the cheek of Alec Baldwin in court. They are holding hands.

Alec Baldwin speaks with his wife Hilaria Baldwin during his hearing at Santa Fe County District Court on July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M.

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When it came time for the defence to give opening statements, lawyer Alex Spiro argued a gun must be safe before it reaches an actor’s hand on a film or TV set.

Baldwin’s lawyers will try to convince the jury that the blame for Hutchins’ death lies elsewhere, specifically with the person who brought real bullets to the production and the person who handed the loaded weapon to Baldwin.

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“The actor’s job is to act, to rehearse, to choreograph his moves, to memorize his lines,” Spiro said. “Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting.”

“No one saw him intentionally pull the trigger.”

Spiro maintained that even if Baldwin had pulled the trigger, he still should not be convicted of manslaughter.

“On a movie set, you’re allowed to pull that trigger,” Spiro said. “That doesn’t make it a homicide.”

He said other people on set — namely the film’s already convicted armourer and the first assistant director — are responsible for ensuring weapon safety.

Prosecutors disagree. They claim Baldwin was negligent and failed to complete a safety check of the Colt .45, while also leaving his finger on the hammer and trigger as he pointed the weapon at people behind the camera.

A still of Alec Baldwin, dressed like a Western cowboy holding a gun, is seen on a TV in the courtroom.

An image of Actor Alec Baldwin is shown on a screen during his trial in Santa Fe County District Court, July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, n.m.

Ross D. Franklin / POOL / AFP via Getty Images

Baldwin has said the firearm malfunctioned and he did not pull the trigger. He’s also alleged he did not know the weapon contained live ammunition.

Witness testimony began on Wednesday, with police officer Nicholas LeFleur first to take the stand. He responded to the initial emergency call and was the earliest officer to the scene.

The jury was shown LeFleur’s bodycam footage from the incident, which showed first responders rushing to treat Hutchins and Souza after the shooting.

Nicholas LeFleur in a white shirt and black tie. He sits in front of a microphone.

Law enforcement officer Nicholas LeFleur testifies during actor Alec Baldwin’s hearing at Santa Fe County District Court on July 10, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M.

Ross D. Franklin – Pool/Getty Images

Souza, who was shot in the shoulder, is heard screaming in pain.

Hutchins was shot under her right arm and the bullet perforated her right lung before also lacerating her spinal cord. In the bodycam footage, she lies on the floor surrounded by paramedics. She died later that day, though Souza would survive.

Later in the video, LeFleur can be seen telling Baldwin not to speak to the other potential witnesses, but Baldwin repeatedly does.

The trial’s second witness, former sheriff’s Lt. Tim Benavidez, said he collected the revolver after the shooting. He acknowledged that he was careful with the Colt .45 for safety reasons but did not wear gloves or take meticulous forensic precautions as he might be done for a homicide investigation.

Baldwin was indicted on a charge of involuntary manslaughter in January. He’d a year earlier been charged with the same offence, though it was dropped as prosecutors continued to examine evidence.

In March, Rust armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and sentenced to serve an 18-month prison sentence. Prosecutors said at an earlier trial that Gutierrez-Reed unknowingly brought live ammunition onto the Rust ranch set and claimed the rounds lingered for at least 12 days until the fatal shooting.

Rust’s assistant director, Dave Halls, pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon in exchange for his testimony.

Gutierrez-Reed told the court she verified the gun fired by Baldwin was loaded with dummy rounds before she passed it off to Halls, who gave it to the actor.

— with files from The Associated Press