FILE PHOTO: Actor Alec Baldwin in New York

FILE PHOTO: Actor Alec Baldwin in New York

Reuters:  A Colt .45 "Peacemaker" revolver, a symbol of the American Wild West, is at the center of actor Alec Baldwin's fight to avoid criminal prosecution for the 2021 fatal shooting of "Rust" cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a New Mexico movie set.

Baldwin's 15-month battle with New Mexico state prosecutors is heading towards a July 10 climax when the actor is scheduled to face trial for involuntary manslaughter over Hollywood's first on-set shooting with a live-round in modern times.

The movie's weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez was sentenced to 18 months imprisonment on Monday for Hutchins' death. Baldwin's legal team is trying to have his indictment thrown out. His lawyers could seek a plea bargain if that fails.

But should the charge hold, Baldwin's trial is likely to focus on whether he pulled the trigger of his reproduction 1873 Colt .45 after he said he was directed - either by director Joel Souza or Hutchins - to point it at the cinematographer, according to different statements he made to the police and then to media.

Baldwin argues that Hutchins died due to a breakdown in film industry firearms safety protocol, which as an actor he was not responsible for. He said it was not his job to inspect the gun and that he did not pull the trigger after Gutierrez mistakenly loaded a live round instead of an inert dummy.

Firearms and legal experts do not expect a Santa Fe, New Mexico, jury to necessarily see it that way.

In the Southwest United States, where gun ownership is routine, there is a cultural norm to check whether a weapon is loaded and never point it at someone and pull the trigger, according to Ashley Hlebinsky, executive director of the University of Wyoming Firearms Research Center.

Some local jurors may not differentiate between handling a gun on a movie set or in real life. Persuading jury members, especially gun owners, that the revolver went off on its own could be a hard sell, said the firearms historian.

Still, Hlebinsky sees a possible path to acquittal for Baldwin: namely, the argument his lawyers laid out in their motion to dismiss that the gun was modified to make it "easier to fire without pulling the trigger." That motion is now being considered by a judge.

"The defense just have to put doubt into the head of the jury," said Hlebinksy, who has acted as a firearms expert in court cases on single action Colt .45-type revolvers similar to the "Rust" weapon. "I think they can definitely do that."

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