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WED: Witnesses recall chaotic set in opening of "Rust" trial, Las Vegas under flood watch, + More

Actor Alec Baldwin, right, and attorney Luke Nikas, leave court after jury selection in Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M.
Ross D. Franklin
/
AP
Actor Alec Baldwin, right, and attorney Luke Nikas, leave court after jury selection in Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M.

Alec Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial starts with witnesses recalling chaotic set shooting Morgan Lee, Andrew Dalton, Associated Press

A defense attorney told jurors Wednesday that the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was an "unspeakable tragedy" but that "Alec Baldwin committed no crime; he was an actor, acting."

Baldwin's lawyer Alex Spiro emphasized in his opening statement in a Santa Fe, New Mexico, courtroom that Baldwin, who is on trial for involuntary manslaughter, did exactly what actors always do on the set of the film "Rust," where Hutchins was killed in October 2021.

"I don't have to tell you any more about this, because you've all seen gunfights in movies," Spiro said.

Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson said in her opening statement that before the shooting, Baldwin skipped safety checks and recklessly handled a revolver.

"The evidence will show that someone who played make believe with a real gun and violated the cardinal rules of firearm safety is the defendant, Alexander Baldwin," Ocampo Johnson said.

Spiro replied that "these cardinal rules, they're not cardinal rules on a movie set."

"On a movie set, safety has to occur before a gun is placed in an actor's hand," Spiro told the jury.

The first witness to take the stand was the first law enforcement officer to arrive at Bonanza Creek Ranch after the shooting. Video shown in the courtroom from the body camera of Nicholas LeFleur, then a Santa Fe county sheriff's deputy, captured the frantic efforts to save Hutchins, who looked unconscious as several people attended to her and gave her an oxygen mask. In the courtroom, Baldwin looked at the screen somberly as it played.

Later in the video, LeFleur can be seen telling Baldwin not to speak to the other potential witnesses, but Baldwin repeatedly does.

When special prosecutor Kari Morrissey asked whether the sheriff's deputy handled the situation ideally he responded, "Probably not. But it's what happened."

Spiro tried to establish that neither LeFleur nor the trial's second witness, former sheriff's Lt. Tim Benavidez, treated the scene as a place where a major crime had occurred. Benavidez, who collected the revolver after the shooting, acknowledged that he was careful with it as much for safety reasons as anything else, but did not wear gloves or take meticulous forensic precautions as he might be done for a homicide investigation.

Ocampo Johnson in her opening walked the jurors through the events leading up to Hutchins death. She said on that day, Baldwin declined multiple opportunities for standard safety checks with armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed before the rehearsal in the small church about 20 miles (32 kilometers) from the courthouse where Hutchins, "a vibrant 42-year-old rising star," was killed. She said Baldwin instead "did his own thing."

"He cocks the hammer, points it straight at Miss Hutchins, and fires that gun, sending that live bullet right into Miss Hutchins body," said Ocampo Johnson.

During the presentation, Baldwin trained his eyes downward on a notepad, away from the jury. He watched Spiro intently during his opening. His wife Hilaria Baldwin, younger brother Stephen Baldwin and older sister Elizabeth Keuchler — who wiped away tears at times — were among the family and friends sitting behind him.

The 16 jurors — 11 women and five men — come from a region with strong currents of gun ownership and safety informed by backcountry hunting. Four of the jurors will be deemed alternates while the other 12 deliberate once they get the case.

Hutchins' death and the wounding of director Joel Souza nearly three years ago sent shock waves through the film industry and led to one felony charge against Baldwin, 66, that could result in up to 18 months in prison.

"It killed an amazing person," Spiro said. "It wounded another, and it changed lives forever."

Baldwin has claimed the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Unaware that it was loaded with a live round, he said he pulled back the hammer — not the trigger — and it fired.

"No one saw him intentionally pull the trigger," Spiro said.

But he said even if Baldwin had pulled it, it still would not have been manslaughter.

"On a movie set, you're allowed to pull that trigger," Spiro said, adding, "that doesn't make it a homicide."

The lawyer emphasized that the responsibility for safety lay with the film's armorer, Gutierrez-Reed, who has already been convicted of involuntary manslaughter, and assistant director David Halls, who pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon in exchange for his testimony.

Baldwin had been told "cold gun" before getting the revolver, not knowing there was a live round in it.

"It had been checked and double checked by those responsible for ensuring the gun was safe," Spiro said. "He did not tamper with it he did not load it himself. He did not leave it unattended."

Spiro has in recent years become one of the most sought-after defense attorneys in the country. His clients have included Elon Musk, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, and Megan Thee Stallion.

Baldwin — the star of "Beetlejuice," "Glengarry Glen Ross" and "30 Rock" — has been a household name as an actor and public personality for more than three decades.

Spiro said in concluding his opening that witnesses will attest that "no actor in history" has "intercepted a live bullet from a prop gun."

"No one could have imagined or expected an actor to do that," the lawyer said.

Testimony at trial will delve into the mechanics of the weapon and whether it could have fired without a trigger pull. Prosecutors say it couldn't have.

"That gun the defendant had asked to be assigned worked perfectly fine as it was designed," Ocampo Johnson said.

Attorney Gloria Allred sat in the front row of the courtroom audience, a reminder of Baldwin's other legal difficulties. Allred is representing "Rust" script supervisor Mamie Mitchell and Hutchins' sister and parents in a civil lawsuit against Baldwin and other producers.

Allred said that from her observations in court, the jury appeared to be riveted by testimony and evidence including the police lapel camera video.
___

Dalton reported from Los Angeles.

___ For more coverage of Alec Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial, visit: https://apnews.com/hub/alec-baldwin

Las Vegas urges continued water conservation as flood threat loomsKUNM News

A flood watch is in effect through this evening for parts of northern New Mexico, including Las Vegas, and officials there are urging residents to continue conserving limited water.

Debris from flash foods over burn scars of the 2022 Calf Canyon/Hermit’s Peak Fire overwhelmed the city’s water treatment plant nearly three weeks ago. That prompted a drinking water crisis.

A post on the city government’s web site notes that water reserve numbers have started to plateau. The city is currently treating an average of 1 million gallons per day. But increased monsoon activity could hinder that capacity in coming days.

A pre-water treatment plant from Canada arrived in Las Vegas on July 5th and officials say that should provide a more stable temporary solution for water production as the town works on long-term plans. It’s not clear how quickly that will be brought online.

NM looking to recoup costs from PFAS damages at military bases - Danielle Prokop, Source New Mexico

New Mexico requested a judge order the federal government to pay the past and future costs of cleaning up ‘forever chemicals’ from military bases across the state, per court documents filed on Monday.

The costs to remove the toxic chemicals called per- or polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) grows into the billions and cleanup efforts stretch for years.

New Mexico officials argue the federal government needs to be accountable for PFAS contamination costs at Cannon Air Force Base, Holloman Air Force Base, Kirtland Air Force Base, White Sands Missile Range and Fort Wingate.

Now, after a federal rules change on Monday, they hope it will allow the state to recover damages and future cleanup costs for PFAS contamination left by the U.S. Department of Defense at military bases across New Mexico.

“We applaud the EPA’s listing of certain PFAS, or ‘forever chemicals,’ as hazardous substances under the Superfund statute,” New Mexico Attorney General Raúl Torrez said. “This enables us to pursue monetary damages and costs at federal facilities, as stated in our amended complaint.”

FOREVER CHEMICALS

PFAS are a class of thousands of manmade chemicals which have had widespread contamination, threatening both people and the environment. The chemicals’ stable properties give them the moniker ‘forever chemicals’ as they are resistant to breaking down, and resist heat and water. They are used in items from nonstick cookware, water-resistant clothing to firefighting foams.

Their ubiquity is also one of their greatest threats. They’re present in an estimated 97% of U.S. populations’ blood. The chemicals are linked to decreased fertility, immune system damage, lower vaccine effectiveness and increased cancer risks.

Torrez said the change means a federal law requiring polluters to pay to clean up contamination now applies to PFAS.

The designation of PFAS as a hazardous substance is separate from the EPA’s efforts to remove the forever chemicals in drinking water.

The filing makes the federal government liable to pay for current and future costs, repair damages to water, land, air and address impacts to wildlife and the state’s economy.

“This opens the door for us to really help communities like Clovis who have been suffering for far too long with this threat, if not actuality of PFAS,” New Mexico Environment Secretary James Kenney said.

He told Source New Mexico that if a judge grants the request, the timeline for payment would be uncertain, but pointed to a similar process on the Gold King Mine, which took several years.

The state has spent an estimated $8 million to $10 million on technical, legal costs and clean-up at Cannon and Holloman, Kenney said, but the estimates for cleanup at all sites will be expensive.

“We could easily be looking at up to 150 million, if not more, especially once we understand the magnitude of the damages,” Kenney said.

He said it’s unclear when the state will have an estimated cost of damages available.

“It depends if we have cooperation by the United States,” Kenney said. “I would say to be five and-a-half years in, and to be where we are today, does not scream – to me – cooperation.”

As part of those costs, New Mexico is looking to recoup at least $850,000 for the removal of thousands of PFAS-contaminated cow carcasses from a dairy farm next to Cannon, another $1.3 million for investigation contamination around bases, according to the complaint.

The filing amends a five-year old civil case before the federal District of South Carolina Court. That case combined 500 claims from across the country seeking damages from contamination caused by the use of a fire-fighting foam containing PFAS. The case has been in a discovery phase since 2020.

Specifically, New Mexico said the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force broke state law by failing to contain or “address contaminants, hazardous wastes, and hazardous substances,” listing how PFAS was found in groundwater and surrounding environment.

The original 2019 complaint only focused on Cannon and Holloman Air Force bases, but the amended complaint filed Monday expands to five sites.

New Mexico argued in their 65-page motion that while the federal government has acknowledged that PFAS poses “an imminent and substantial danger,” at Cannon, that they have failed to take action to clean up.

The complaint asked that the court grant the state the power to direct the federal government to “to take all steps necessary” on clean-up.

The U.S. Department of Defense deferred comment to the U.S. Department of Justice Tuesday.

New Mexico is embroiled in a second, separate federal lawsuit with the U.S. Department of Defense over PFAS, which is still in mediation, and is not part of the effort to recoup damages.

Flash floods prompt immediate evacuations in Ruidoso Daniel Montaño, KUNM News

Residents of Ruidoso were forced to flee from their homes Tuesday afternoon because of flash flooding.

Mayor Lynn Crawford said 176 people were forced to evacuate, and 27 people required swift water rescues.

An evacuation center has been set up at the White Mountain Sports Complex at 687 Hull Rd. near Highway 48.

“There are kind of pods that they can sleep in, stand in. They have lockers, and then we have bathrooms and showers and laundry service,” Crawford said “And then we have a big tent where the Red Cross is feeding everyone, so they'll be taking care of the best possible until we can get them back in their homes.”

He says some of the residents will most likely be there for at least a day or two, until the village can re-open some major roads like Paradise Canyon Drive, a main thoroughfare.

The National Weather Service said by 4:30 pm Tuesday the worst of the rain passed, but flash flood warnings remained in place until 6 pm.

Crawford said the waters damaged natural gas and propane lines, carried heavy debris throughout the affected areas, and damaged at least one bridge.

Officials called for the immediate evacuations just one day after re-opening the southern New Mexico village to tourists after the South Fork and Salt fires ravaged the town for weeks.

The areas of Cedar Creek, Upper Canyon, Brady Canyon, Paradise Canyon, Hull and areas along the Rio Ruidoso were all affected.

Albuquerque City Councilors propose resolution to build ‘Safe Haven Baby Boxes’ - Elizabeth McCall, City Desk ABQ

This story was originally published by City Desk ABQ

Albuquerque may be on its way to getting baby boxes — usually installed in fire departments under the promise of giving parents a way to anonymously surrender their baby.

City Councilors Renée Grout and Klarissa Peña want Albuquerque to become the next city to get Safe Haven Baby Boxes and plan to bring a resolution before the City Council in August. Grout, her policy analyst and a fire department official even went down to the nearest town where a baby had been surrendered to consult with city leaders.

Hobbs, Carlsbad, Española, Belen, Alamogordo, Roswell and Farmington have installed baby boxes and two have already been used. The non-profit Safe Haven Baby Boxes raises awareness and trains local officials on how to use the devices which offer a climate-controlled repository that alerts the fire department if it has been opened.

Even smaller towns have hopped on the baby box train.

Edgewood will soon have one after town officials approved funding for its installation earlier this year. The Town of Bernalillo has also considered installing a baby box.

In total, the boxes have been used three times in the state.

The first baby box to be installed was in Española in 2022 after a woman in Hobbs put her baby in a dumpster. The baby survived.

The first baby to be surrendered in a baby box was in Hobbs in September 2023; since then, a baby was surrendered in Belen in February and another in Hobbs in May.

To get a closer look, Grout and her senior policy analyst, Abigail Stiles, and one of the city’s deputy fire chiefs took a trip to Belen on Monday to meet with city officials who showed them their baby box and demonstrated how it is used.

Grout told City Desk ABQ she is grateful the mother who surrendered her baby in Belen had a safe place to take the baby — and that’s the reason she and Peña want to install a baby box in each of their districts.

“I would rather have a mom drop it off in a safe place where she doesn’t have to worry rather than putting it in a dumpster because she’s scared,” Grout said. “Councilor Peña and I are hoping to have [the resolution] introduced at our first council meeting, but we want the document to be ready, so I don’t want to rush it but this is a goal of ours to get this done.”

At the Albuquerque Bernalillo County Government Commission meeting June 27, Grout introduced the resolution and said while it is still in the planning stages, she wanted to bring it to them for discussion.

Grout said that the state has appropriated grant funding for each county in the state to install a baby box and Bernalillo County accepted the $10,000 grant but has yet to use it.

Stiles said the county and city will need to collaborate because the county “didn’t feel like their fire stations were placed strategically in areas that this would be appropriate for” and agreed that the city’s fire stations are in more appropriate areas.

Stiles explained the New Mexico Safe Haven for Infants Act “permits parents to surrender their unharmed newborns that are up to 90 days old anonymously without facing legal consequences,” but Councilor Tammy Fiebelkorn raised concerns about whether it really is anonymous.

“The state law was very clear that you can surrender a baby anonymously but then it came to light that the Children, Youth and Families Department (CYFD) was investigating every baby who was surrendered and trying to find the family, which does not sound anonymous to me,” Fiebelkorn said.

Stiles said Secretary of CYFD Teresa Casados was the one who informed her that the county accepted the grant from the state but she is not sure “where CYFD stands on this” and there is “definitely a conversation to have.”

“There is a quote from the secretary of CYFD explaining the agency is bound by law to investigate,” Councilor Nichole Rogers said. “They’re not doing investigations in any way to criminalize or prosecute anyone, their investigation really is just to make sure that any efforts to locate the mother or the parents are to make sure that she is safe.”

BELEN’S BABY BOX

Belen Fire Chief Charles Cox told City Desk ABQ that he thinks their baby box was worthwhile and with more of them throughout the state, he hopes there won’t be any more reports of babies being left in dumpsters.

“That baby is alive today, so that is a success for us,” Cox said. “It does great service for not only the city of Belen but the surrounding communities outside of Belen. You could go as far as Isleta or Albuquerque if there is a mother who is in distress who can’t take care of the baby or doesn’t want it, they can come down here and put it in our baby box and we will make sure her baby is well taken care of.”

Cox also said the fire department or hospital will contact CYFD after the baby box is used but it is not the fire department’s “responsibility to find out who the mother is, our concerns are for the baby.”

While there is confusion regarding the anonymity of baby boxes and CYFD’s involvement, Grout said she knows there are some questions and they are working through those.

“When we introduce something, things can change, more people get involved who have their ideas and we go from there,” Grout said.