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Alec Baldwin's manslaughter trial is set to get to the heart of the matter Wednesday when the trial begins over the fatal shooting of the director of photography for the western “Rust.”

The 66-year-old American comedian risks up to 18 months in prison for these events which date back to October 2021, on a ranch in New Mexico.

The star had brandished a gun that was supposed to hold only blanks, but instead fired a real projectile, killing Halyna Hutchins, the film's director of photography, and injuring the director, Joel Souza.

The confrontation between the prosecution and the defense promises to be lively, because the trial is based on an investigation marked by numerous weaknesses and twists and turns.

The actor has always explained that he was assured that the weapon was harmless and denies having pulled the trigger. His lawyers have filed numerous appeals to try to drop the charges, to no avail.

But their tenacity sowed doubt in the ranks of the prosecution for many months. They first obtained a change of prosecutor, then a dropping of the charges last year, before the actor was finally charged again last January.

For the defense, Mr. Baldwin is a Hollywood star on whom prosecutors are trying to make a name for themselves, in a case followed by the world's media.

The investigation never established how live ammunition – which is in principle prohibited – ended up on the set. And the actor's lawyers are quick to point out that an actor is not responsible for checking weapons or logistics.

But the prosecution plans to paint the portrait of an unbearable actor, whose diva-like behavior and disregard for basic safety rules put the entire film crew in danger.

“Mr. Baldwin's pressure on the crew on the set regularly compromised safety,” prosecutors said in court documents, denouncing an actor who “regularly yelled” at everyone and wanted to finish the film faster.

– Disputed expertise –
The prosecution also believes that the actor “lied shamelessly” by changing his version of events after his first interrogation. It considers the hypothesis of an accidental shooting, at the heart of its line of defense, “absurd.”

An FBI expert concluded that the gun could not have fired without the trigger being pulled.

But the defense disputes this, because the federal police damaged parts of the weapon while conducting tests to explore the possibility of an accidental shot. The star's lawyers had even made this a central argument in an attempt to have the trial dismissed.

Wearing a dark suit and a closed expression, Mr. Baldwin appeared with his wife Hilaria and one of his seven children Tuesday for the opening of his trial. Wearing square glasses, he took a few notes during a day devoted to jury selection.

A process that illustrated the difficulty of finding impartial people to weigh up one's responsibility. Among the dozens of people summoned, only a handful raised their hands when the judge asked who knew absolutely nothing about this case.

Because the death of Halyna Hutchins, a talented 42-year-old director of photography from Ukraine who had participated in investigative documentaries, has deeply shocked the film industry.

The trial of “Rust” gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who placed the bullet in the reproduction of the period gun used by Mr Baldwin and was sentenced to 18 months in prison in April, has already been widely followed in the United States.

Mr Baldwin's fate will also be closely scrutinised: his conviction would set a historical precedent, capable of deterring other actors from using real weapons in filming.

The hearings are expected to last until Friday next week, before jurors deliberate.

amz/rfo/ube

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