Recently, I noted the curious scene of actor Alec Baldwin insisting with reporters that he has been given clear legal instructions not to discuss the shooting of Halyna Hutchins at the set of the movie “Rust” . . . and then making detailed statements about the shooting. Now, with an ongoing criminal investigation and various civil lawsuits expected to be filed, Baldwin has given a detailed statement to ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos, including a surprising claim that he never pointed the gun or pulled the trigger. That interview may be one of his most watched scenes, particularly if he is charged criminally or sued civilly.[Update: Santa Fe’s Democrat D.A. Mary Carmack-Altwies has stated that it is possible that Baldwin didn’t pull the trigger on the gun].
In the interview, Baldwin clearly and expressly denies ever pulling the trigger or even pointing the gun at Hutchins: “The trigger wasn’t pulled. I didn’t pull the trigger. I would never point a gun at someone and pull the trigger on them, never.”
That is a bold statement to be sure and it locks in Baldwin’s defense for better or worse. It would seem that he will be arguing that the gun discharged on its own. As an antique Colt 45, it may be argued that the weapon discharged without the conscious pulling of the trigger. That would make the gun defective. Baldwin also added “Someone put a live bullet in a gun, a bullet that wasn’t even supposed to be on the property.”
As noted earlier, the problem is that Baldwin was not just an actor but a producer on the set. He was arguably responsible for the set itself and the props.
What is most striking about the new claim is that it is subject to physical testing and even a demonstrative exhibit before the jury. If experts report that the gun did not have a “hair trigger” or some defect, it would greatly erode Baldwin’s credibility. It is very unlikely that his counsel has had access to the gun or even any film evidence from the scene. Notably, however, they do have the statement of an assistant director that he thought the shooting was a “misfire.”
Moreover, I am surprised that Baldwin claims that he would never point even a prop gun at someone and pull the trigger. Given his many shooting scenes, that would be disprovable.
The defense certainly could argue that, as an actor, Baldwin is unfamiliar with guns and did not “mean to pull the trigger.” However, this interview locks him into an absolute denial of pointing the gun and pulling the trigger. That is a considerable risk when the investigation is not complete and Baldwin’s counsel does not know what the forensic and eyewitness testimony will say.
Baldwin has also called for police officers to be assigned to movie sets to control the use of prop guns — a remarkably dim proposal. Police departments are not designed to be prop managers for Hollywood.
Baldwin’s worlds — cinematic and actual — appear to be merging in this scandal. In The Hunt for Red October, Baldwin (as Jack Ryan) objected “I don’t react well to bullets.” This is not a particularly good reaction to the investigation into this shooting. The police have not issued a report on how this bullet found its way to the site or how it was discharged. Pending the release of such evidence, Baldwin’s decision to give an interview on the details of the incident was highly ill-advised.