“Will you be a free man in two weeks Mr. Baldwin?” someone shouted, as Alec Baldwin arrived at the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe, New Mexico Tuesday morning for the first day of his trial. Baldwin flicked the legal pad he was carrying at a journalist who had thrust a microphone into his path and silently walked through the scrum of photographers and reporters, led by his attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro. The 30 Rock star stopped to speak with his wife, Hilaria, who had arrived at the courthouse in a separate black SUV and was standing in front of the line of photographers with one of their seven children balanced on her hip.

On Wednesday, opening statements will start in a two week trial on whether Baldwin should be held criminally liable for involuntary manslaughter in the death of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

The crush of cameras Baldwin has attracted is an unfamiliar sight at the Santa Fe courthouse, where 41 news organizations are credentialed to cover the event, the first celebrity trial ever in New Mexico — unless you count Billy the Kid’s 1881 murder trial, before the territory even became a state.

The attention on Baldwin’s case is already presenting some challenges to the legal system. After Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer assured the group of 70 potential jurors empaneled on Tuesday that their faces would not appear on a Court TV feed, she asked them to raise their hands if they were already familiar with Baldwin’s case. So many did so that Sommer re-phrased the question. “How many of you have not seen anything about this case?” she asked. Just three people, it turned out. When one juror said he didn’t know much because he didn’t have cable or internet, prosecutor Kari Morrissey quipped, “I strive to be you.”

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer listens during a pretrial hearing in Santa Fe, N.M., on Monday, July 8, 2024.

But by the end of the day a panel of 16 jurors, including four alternates, were selected, 11 women and 5 men. In a state where nearly half of residents are registered gun owners — among the highest rates in the nation — the potential jurors’ views on guns were the prime topic of the day. “Are you a gun owner? Do you have strong feelings about guns? Do you have a concealed carry permit?” Morrissey asked. Spiro pressed the issue of whether jurors believed a person could rely on an expert when it came to guns. “It doesn’t take a brain scientist to make sure the gun is not loaded,” one potential juror responded. “You should not be relying on an expert in that case.” He was not chosen for the jury. Another replied that, “I was always taught that every firearm should be treated as loaded at all times, and that you never point a firearm at another person.” That juror wasn’t chosen either.

Spiro also asked jurors to consider their views on Baldwin as a public figure. “He’s not just a person in the media, he’s a real person,” Spiro said. “But maybe he played a role in a movie you didn’t like. Maybe he did a comedy routine you didn’t like. I’m not you, I don’t know.” For Baldwin, who appeared in court with his white-gray hair closely cropped, wearing thick black glasses, the role he’s playing now, an earnest defendant, is a crucial one. The actor faces a sentence of 18 months in prison.

As Morrissey and Spiro questioned the potential jurors, Baldwin jotted notes on a yellow Post-It pad. Morrissey’s fellow prosecutor, Erlinda Ocampo Johnson, traced a yellow highlighter on some large pieces of posterboard with jurors’ numbers, looking like a football coach mapping plays.

It was occasionally easy to forget the seriousness of the case the jurors were being called to decide, as when one person asked to be dismissed because they needed to smoke marijuana every day.

But the tragic facts of the case are undeniable. The shooting occurred inside a rustic New Mexico church set at roughly 1:40 on Oct. 21, 2012, when an old-fashioned revolver Baldwin was handling went off as he was rehearsing a cross draw maneuver. Prior to that, assistant director David Halls handed him the loaded weapon, pronouncing it “cold,” an industry term to signify there was no live ammunition inside (Halls has testified armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed handed the gun directly to Baldwin). The revolver discharged in the direction of Hutchins, who was killed, and director Joel Souza, who was injured. Five live rounds mixed in with dummy rounds were found on set following the shooting. It remains unknown how they were introduced.

To land a conviction, prosecutors will need to convince a jury to side with them on either of their two theories of the case. The first holds the actor responsible for Hutchins’ death by way of negligent use of a firearm, while the other accuses him of acting with “total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.”

The two theories sound similar but ask the jury different questions in the same vein as one another. The negligence count faults Baldwin for killing Hutchins in the commission of a crime, in this case the negligent use of a firearm, which is typically a misdemeanor in New Mexico. It’ll take into account his manner of handling the gun and whether he should’ve cocked it even when the scene didn’t call for him to do so, among other things. The theory is similar to instances of vehicular manslaughter when, in the negligent use of a vehicle that ended in someone’s death, such as improperly making a lane change or speeding, the driver can be charged with involuntary manslaughter.

The alternative charge holds that Baldwin acted recklessly under circumstances in which an “ordinary person would anticipate that death might occur.” This theory directs jurors to consider whether the actor should’ve confirmed that the gun didn’t have live ammunition before he pointed it at Hutchins and knew about the danger associated with his actions.

To be convicted, Baldwin must be found beyond a reasonable doubt to have “consciously disregard[ed] a substantial and unjustifiable risk” that “harm [would] result from his conduct,” and that Hutchins’ death was a “foreseeable result” of his willful disregard of that risk. It won’t be enough to show that the actor was careless or negligent. Prosecutors must prove that he was aware of the danger, meaning that he considered the possibility the gun was loaded but pointed it toward the cinematographer and pulled the trigger anyway.

Legal experts stress that the standard is much higher than proving that Baldwin was merely careless in the events that led up to Hutchins’ death and that the prosecution’s theory betrays common sense.

“There’s scene after scene of him firing the gun and every time, it’s a blank to the surprise of no one,” says Joshua Ritter, a criminal defense attorney and former L.A. prosecutor. “And then in this one instance, it happens to have a live round, and they’re saying he should’ve quadrupled checked? The jury’s going to ask how in the world he was supposed to know.”

Echoing that sentiment, James Brosnahan, who represented the production company behind The Crow after actor Brandon Lee was fatally shot on set, says Baldwin, “certainly has an argument that he had no reason to believe the gun was loaded.”

The jury will assess two clashing portrayals of Baldwin: A cavalier narcissist who thought he was above the rules or the Hollywood veteran who was unfairly charged for Gutierrez-Reed’s failures as the production’s armorer.

On Monday, Baldwin secured a series of wins on evidence that will be introduced at trial. Foremost among them is a ruling barring testimony and materials relating to the actor’s role as a producer on Rust.

Prosecutors intended to argue that Baldwin, as a producer, failed to properly supervise “the work being done by crew” or “ensure proper training and safety” as proof that he was reckless and consciously ignored the safety of Hutchins by pointing the gun directly at her. Judge Mary Sommer, however, found that she doesn’t want to confuse the jury by admitting evidence she said isn’t relevant to Baldwin’s alleged criminal negligence as an actor on the production.

“I’m having real difficulty, with the state’s position that they want to show that as a producer, he didn’t follow guidelines, and therefore, as an actor, Mr. Baldwin did all these things wrong resulting in the death of Halyna Hutchins because, as a producer, he allowed this all to happen,” she said.

Under his deal with Rust Movie Productions, the entity producing the western, the actor was a producer in name only and had no responsibilities on set, including the duty to manage crew, or decision-making authority, according to court filings.

In another blow for the district attorney’s office, the judge ruled that the jury won’t be able to watch videos of Baldwin “screaming” and “cussing” at crewmembers, among other things, which prosecutors said show that the actor is “arrogant.” This included an instance of Baldwin allegedly using a camera assistant’s monitor as an ashtray for a cigar he was smoking. Evidence of him discharging a firearm after “cut” was called, firing a blank round at a crew member and using a gun “as a pointer,” however, may come into the trial at some point.”

In the face of such evidence, the defense’s strategy involves undermining the integrity of the prosecution and investigation into the gun Baldwin was holding.

The road to the filing of charges against the actor was long and labyrinthian. He was initially charged in January 2023, with prosecutors alleging that he should’ve assumed the gun he was handling was loaded with live rounds and known that “the first rule of gun safety is never to point a gun at someone you don’t intend on shooting.” The charges were dropped three months later when New Mexico prosecutors announced a new investigation into whether the gun that discharged could’ve been modified to fire without a pull of the trigger only for them to be refiled in 2024 after a forensic expert issued a report clashing with an account of the shooting from Baldwin, who has maintained that he didn’t pull the trigger (the gun was destroyed during testing).

The decision put a brighter spotlight on the prosecution, which has been marred by high-profile blunders. At the top of the list: Downgrading charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed after a firearm law that was not in effect at the time of the shooting was cited and former special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, who was part of the team that initially charged the actor, stepped down due to a conflict of interest with her elected position in the New Mexico House of Representatives, with leaked emails indicating that she sought to leverage the case for political gain. Santa Fe county District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, who appointed Reeb, subsequently excused herself from all matters related to the prosecution, handing the case over to Kari Morrissey.

While evidence of prosecutorial misconduct was barred, Sommer permitted Baldwin’s lawyer to tell the jury of the destruction of the gun sear through FBI testing and evidence that the defense will argue undercuts prosecutors’ insistence that the gun wasn’t modified and couldn’t fire without a pull of the trigger. This includes a report indicating that there were “unexplained toolmarks” on the “working surface and sides of the evidence trigger/sear” and an eleventh-hour meeting the prosecution organized for the author of the report to retract that conclusion.

On the impact of the ruling, Brosnahan says it’ll “give a favorable defense juror something to argue about on whether Baldwin actually pulled the trigger.” He adds, “That was crucial for the defense.”

In April, Baldwin returned to the set of Rust, this time at Yellowstone Film Ranch in Montana. Issues with money continued to plague the production, according to Paul Jordan, whose company was hired to provide safety services to Rust after it resumed filming.

“[W]e expected it to be a very simple, very straightforward production, and it wasn’t because of the budget issues, the money issues,” he testified in a deposition. “We had a lot of complaints of people that weren’t getting paid properly.”

Jordan continued that the “general dissatisfaction” expressed by crew members, who pointed to the lack of prep time and “very last-minute decisions on a lot of things,” often “become safety issues on set.”

The prevailing sentiment in Hollywood is that a tragic and bizarre confluence of events led to Hutchins’ death — not any intentionally malicious act by Baldwin. Whatever the outcome of the trial, a resurgence is still a possibility. 

“Hollywood careers are surprisingly resilient,” says Rob Rosenberg, former Showtime Networks executive vice president and general counsel. “Baldwin can still bounce back.”