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Prosecutors Seeking to Recharge Alec Baldwin in Fatal Shooting on Set of Western Movie 'Rust'
gvw_ap_news
By Associated Press
Published 6 months ago on
October 18, 2023

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SANTA FE, N.M.— Special prosecutors are seeking to recharge actor Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of a Western movie in 2021, describing Tuesday their preparations to present new information to a grand jury.

New Mexico-based prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis said they’ll present their case to the grand jury within the next two months, noting “additional facts” have come to light in the shooting on the set of the film “Rust” that killed Halyna Hutchins.

Baldwin, a coproducer of the film, was pointing a gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal inside a rustic chapel on a movie-set ranch near Santa Fe when the gun went off on Oct. 21, 2021, killing the cinematographer and wounding director Joel Souza.

“After extensive investigation over the past several months, additional facts have come to light that we believe show Mr. Baldwin has criminal culpability in the death of Halyna Hutchins and the shooting of Joel Souza,” Morrissey and Lewis said in an email. “We believe the appropriate course of action is to permit a panel of New Mexico citizens to determine from here whether Mr. Baldwin should be held over for criminal trial.”

They declined to elaborate on the additional information they may present to the grand jury.

Baldwin has said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired.

Attorneys for Baldwin said the latest move by prosecutors is misguided.

“It is unfortunate that a terrible tragedy has been turned into this misguided prosecution. We will answer any charges in court,” Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro said in an email.

Charges Dismissed Previously

Special prosecutors initially dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin in April, saying they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. They later pivoted and began weighing whether to refile a charge against Baldwin after receiving a new analysis of the gun.

The recent gun analysis from experts in ballistics and forensic testing based in Arizona and New Mexico relied on replacement parts to reassemble the gun fired by Baldwin — after parts of the pistol were broken during earlier testing by the FBI. The report examined the gun and markings it left on a spent cartridge to conclude that the trigger had to have been pulled or depressed.

The analysis led by Lucien Haag of Forensic Science Services in Arizona stated that although Baldwin repeatedly denies pulling the trigger, “given the tests, findings and observations reported here, the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver.”

An earlier FBI report on the agency’s analysis of the gun found that, as is common with firearms of that design, it could go off without pulling the trigger if force was applied to an uncocked hammer — such as by dropping the weapon.

The only way the testers could get it to fire was by striking the gun with a mallet while the hammer was down and resting on the cartridge, or by pulling the trigger while it was fully cocked. The gun eventually broke during testing.

Authorities have not specified exactly how live ammunition found its way on set and into the .45-caliber revolver made by an Italian company that specializes in 19th century reproductions.

The weapons supervisor on the movie set, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering in the case. Her trial is scheduled to begin in February.

In March, “Rust” assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls pleaded no contest to unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months of probation. He agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the shooting.

Grand Jury Indictment Likely

In the revived case against Baldwin, first reported by NBC News, a grand jury would “determine whether probable cause exists to bind Baldwin over on criminal charges,” special prosecutors said.

Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor who provides legal commentary as head of West Coast Trial Lawyers in Los Angeles, said prosecutors reserved the right to reopen the case by dismissing charges “without prejudice,” and that he’d be surprised if a grand jury didn’t return an indictment.

Unlike a jury trial in which guilt must be proved “beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard on possible charges before a grand jury is a lower “probable cause” finding, Rahmani said.

“It’s just a one-sided presentation by prosecutors,” he said.

The 2021 shooting resulted in a series of civil lawsuits centered on accusations that the defendants were lax with safety standards. The cases have included wrongful death claims filed by members of Hutchins’ family. Baldwin and other defendants have disputed the accusations that they were lax with safety standards.

The company Rust Movie Productions has paid a $100,000 fine to state workplace safety regulators following a scathing narrative of safety failures in violation of standard industry protocols, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires on set before the fatal shooting.

The filming of “Rust” resumed this year in Montana, under an agreement with the cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, that made him an executive producer.

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