A mostly female jury will determine whether Alec Baldwin is guilty in ‘Rust’ trial

The defense and the prosecution have agreed on 11 women and five men to decide the future of the actor, who is accused of involuntary manslaughter for the death of a cinematographer on set

Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin, with his hands over his mouth, inside the courtroom on Monday.Luis Sánchez Saturno (AP)
Luis Pablo Beauregard

Everything is ready for Alec Baldwin’s trial to begin. Jury selection took place on Tuesday; 11 women and five men will decide whether the actor is guilty or not of the only charge he faces, involuntary manslaughter. The day was marked by delays and technical problems in the Santa Fe courts, which will host the high-profile celebrity trial for eight days. Opening arguments will begin on Wednesday. The cameras of several media outlets are outside the Santa Fe County District Courthouse, where camera operators wait under a strong sun for developments in the case.

Several dozen journalists have arrived here from all over the world to follow the trial, evidencing the international interest in the case stemming from the events of October 21, 2021 at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, located 13 miles from the courthouse. Instead, prosecutors and defense lawyers were on Tuesday looking for the opposite, people who have barely been exposed to a case that has been followed down to the last detail. Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer soon realized there was no point in asking potential jurors if they had heard of Alec Baldwin.

“How many of you have not seen or heard anything about this case from any source whatsoever?” she asked the group of 70 people called to serve with their obligations as U.S. citizens.

Only two raised their hands. Not only had they not heard about the tragedy on the set of Rust, they had not even heard of Alec Baldwin, who has more than 150 movies to his name and has starred in popular series like 30 Rock and Oscar-winning films like The Departed.

Juror 14 stated that he did not have television or cable, but the case sounded familiar to him. “I aspire to be like you,” the prosecutor told him. At the other end, two other people raised their hands and stated that they had read and heard so much about the incident that they had a fairly formed opinion that prevented them from being impartial. “Because of my opinions on unions, I feel that I would be less than objective with Mr. Baldwin,” said one of them. With the phrase, juror 50 avoided spending the next eight days at the trial.

During the first two hours of the day, the judge heard the citizens’ excuses to avoid passing judgment on one of the most recognized celebrities in Hollywood. A psychiatrist said he couldn’t leave his patients alone. Juror 24, a domestic worker, said that jury duty would prevent her from earning her wages. Number 20 said she takes medical marijuana and was not sure if she could follow the facts in detail. Number 54 had scheduled nose surgery due to allergies. Number 6 said she has having shoulder replacement surgery over the next few days.

- “Are you sure you don't prefer to stay here?” Judge Marlowe joked, causing everyone to laugh.

After five hours and a lunch break, 16 members of the jury were selected. Twelve will sit within the court and the rest will serve as alternate jurors and can take part in the deliberations if necessary.

The importance of firearms

During the jury selection process, the lines of argumentation that the defense and prosecution will follow were exposed. The chief prosecutor in the case, Kari Morrissey, focused on the opinion that potential jurors had about firearms and due respect for safety protocols in the workplace. In the 50 minutes she had to question the potential jurors, the prosecutor wanted to know if they or their relatives owned weapons or if they practiced target shooting as a hobby. She also asked several if they had any experience in the film industry or if they had ever worked on a film. “We are looking for jurors who want to be fair to Mr. Baldwin, who has constitutional rights,” Morrissey said.

Alex Spiro, Baldwin’s attorney, did not want to talk about firearms. Instead, the lawyer said he was looking for jurors who could keep a cool head even though they were dealing with a tragedy. “Even if something tragic happened, we need everyone to be able to hear the facts and for the law to be respected,” he said. He also announced that he will question the version of events offered by several witnesses and will pressure them because many of them “have an agenda.” “You shouldn’t necessarily believe everything you hear from someone who is under oath. Even if they are experts or police officers,” he added. At the end of his turn, Spiro returned to the topic of firearms, but changed the focus of the conversation. “Do you agree with the idea that we should all rely on experts?” he stated, suggesting that the Rust incident is not his client’s responsibility, since there were other people on the set in charge of checking the weapon.

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