A New Mexico judge cleared the way Friday for a criminal trial to proceed against actor Alex Baldwin for his role in the fatal accidental shooting of a cinematographer on the “Rust” movie set.

The ruling by New Mexico First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer allows the trial to go forward as planned.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to the felony count of involuntary manslaughter, and his trial is expected to begin in a Santa Fe courtroom with jury selection on July 9.

The Times has reached out to Baldwin’s camp for comment.

The decision comes after months of legal wrangling between Baldwin’s high-powered legal team and special prosecutors over whether the actor-producer’s prop gun was faulty.

Prosecutors have tried to prove that Baldwin pulled the trigger in the 2021 tragedy, killing Halyna Hutchins, who was standing less than four feet away.

Baldwin told investigators the gun just “went off.” His attorneys have asked that Baldwin’s indictment be dismissed, citing mistakes by investigators.

Prosecutors revealed that a “Rust” crew member would testify that he saw Baldwin pull the trigger that day. And they have offered other evidence they allege shows that Baldwin acted recklessly throughout filming of the low-budget western movie near Santa Fe and that he had a duty, as a producer, to make sure the film set was safe.

During filming of the low-budget western, Baldwin, Hutchins and the film’s director, Joel Souza, and about a dozen other crew members were preparing for a scene in which Baldwin’s character would pull his pistol from his shoulder holster, followed by a shoot-out with law enforcement officers.

At issue is the condition of the Italian-made Pietta Colt .45 — a recently manufactured and fully functional replica of an 1880s pistol — before and after testing by an FBI analyst.

Baldwin’s attorneys have argued that fractures to the gun’s hammer and sear during the FBI’s testing of the weapon were evidence that the gun was prone to accidentally discharging and that Baldwin was denied the opportunity to prove that the weapon was faulty.

Baldwin also maintained the gun was modified before its use on “Rust,” and that may have contributed to the tragic accident, which prosecutors deny.

“There is no dispute that the state knowingly destroyed the most important piece of evidence in the case without taking even the most basic steps to document its original condition,” Baldwin’s attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro wrote earlier this month in a court filing.

Prosecutors had long argued that the gun would not have just gone off.

Prosecutors last year hired a respected gun expert from Arizona who inspected the weapon and rebuilt the damaged section. The expert had planned to testify at the trial that the revolver was in good condition and that, in order for the gun to go off, Baldwin would have had to pull the trigger.

During a two-day hearing that concluded on Monday, Baldwin’s attorneys and the two special prosecutors spent hours quizzing the firearms experts, forensic analysts and the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s deputy who investigated the shooting.

Baldwin was unaware a live bullet was loaded in the chamber. He had been told the gun was “cold,” meaning it contained no ammunition. His legal team, with support from performers union SAG-AFTRA, has said that Baldwin wasn’t responsible for gun safety and was not required to inspect the weapon himself.

That role belonged to armorer Hannah Gutierrez, who was convicted in March on an involuntary manslaughter charge for her actions that led to Hutchins’ death. Gutierrez was ordered to serve an 18-month sentence.

Gutierrez is on the state’s witness list to testify against Baldwin, but she has been uncooperative with prosecutors, according to court testimony.

The investigation into the “Rust” shooting has faced multiple setbacks.

Blunders were made by law enforcement officers and the original team of prosecutors, who ultimately stepped aside from the case.

The detective in charge of the investigation ordered the destructive tests in 2022, despite warnings from the FBI analyst that striking the gun’s hammer with a mallet could damage the weapon.

Baldwin’s attorneys also have accused the special prosecutors of concealing evidence, which they have denied. Earlier this month, lawyers Nikas and Spiro filed a motion to dismiss the indictment against Baldwin because of the destruction to the gun.

Nikas and Spiro wrote that the gun pieces showed irregularities, including shavings and unidentified “tool marks” on the hammer, and that it was impossible to know whether the marks were present during filming of “Rust.”

A year ago, special prosecuctor Kari Morrissey and her law partner agreed to drop the charges against Baldwin so they could investigate the allegations made by Nikas that the gun had been modified.

After the charge was dropped in April 2023, Baldwin traveled to Montana to complete the filming of “Rust.”

Last October, Morrissey offered Baldwin a “very favorable plea agreement” to plead no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor.

However, Morrissey withdrew the deal weeks later.

Morrissey said she learned that Nikas had shared details of it with NBC News — despite the information being confidential. Then Morrissey said she learned that Baldwin “had commissioned his own documentary about the death of the woman he killed and was actively pressuring material witnesses in the case to submit to interviews for his documentary.”

Last year, “Rust” assistant director David Halls pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor, and received a suspended six-month sentence.

The assistant director agreed to pay a $500 fine, participate in a firearms safety class, refrain from taking drugs or alcohol and complete 24 hours of community service. He also agreed to testify in court about the accident, and shared his recollections during Gutierrez’s trial in late February.

Halls is also on the witness list for Baldwin’s defense team.

Times Staff Writer Christi Carras contributed to this report.

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