Alec Baldwin to be charged with involuntary manslaughter over 'Rust' shooting

Reuters | Updated: 20-01-2023 08:08 IST | Created: 20-01-2023 08:08 IST
Alec Baldwin to be charged with involuntary manslaughter over 'Rust' shooting

American actor Alec Baldwin faces involuntary manslaughter charges carrying prison time in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the 2021 filming of the Western "Rust" in New Mexico. Santa Fe's top prosecutor, District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, said on Thursday that the film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, would also be charged with involuntary manslaughter. She said charges would be filed by the end of this month.

Hutchins' family welcomed the announcement, while Baldwin attorney Luke Nikas said, "this decision distorts Halyna Hutchins' tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice." The charging decision was met with surprise in Hollywood and followed more than a year of investigation after a pistol fired a live round in October 2021 as Baldwin, 64, was rehearsing with it on the set of the movie being filmed outside Santa Fe. The movie's director, Joel Souza, was hit and wounded by the same .45-caliber bullet that killed Hutchins.

A Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office investigation did not reveal how live ammunition got onto the set. According to a police report, David Halls, the assistant director who handed the gun to Baldwin, told the actor it was "cold," an industry term meaning it did not contain blank rounds. Halls signed a plea agreement for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, Carmack-Altwies said in her statement. Gutierrez-Reed had handled the gun before Halls.

Prosecutors told several media outlets it was part of industry standards for actors to check that firearms were safe to handle and to follow basic gun rules such as not pointing weapons at people. Baldwin has pushed back at that idea, saying firearm safety was the responsibility of the armorer and first director and that he was directed to aim the pistol at the cinematographer.

"On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice," Carmack-Altwies said in a statement. Prosecutors could face long odds securing a conviction, according to legal experts, who said that if on-set professionals told Baldwin the gun was not loaded, he wouldn't be obligated to inspect it himself.

"It's a very aggressive charging decision, and the defense has a strong case," said personal injury attorney and former prosecutor Neama Rahmani, who was not involved in the "Rust" case. "Accidents like this are not enough for criminal liability." Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be charged "in the alternative" with two counts of manslaughter, meaning a jury will decide not only if they were guilty, but under which definition of involuntary manslaughter, the prosecutor said.

Simple involuntary manslaughter for negligence is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Should prosecutors prove there was more than simple negligence involved in the use of a firearm, they could face a mandatory five-year jail term. Baldwin has denied responsibility for Hutchins' death and said he did not pull the trigger of the replica Pietta .45-caliber long Colt revolver.

An FBI forensic test of the revolver found it "functioned normally" and would not fire without the trigger being pulled. "Mr Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win," his attorney Nikas said.

Firearms guidance from actors union SAG-AFTRA instructs performers to treat guns as though they are loaded with blanks and rely on weapons handlers to instruct them on use, including when they can safely point a firearm at someone on camera. "An actor's job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert," the union said, slamming Carmack-Altwies' charging decision as "uninformed."

Among actors who spoke out in support of Baldwin was Kirk Acevedo who appeared in HBO's "Band of Brothers." "Most actors have never even fired a real gun before. They have zero knowledge on handling fire arms, it's up to the armorer or the prop master to show," Acevedo sad on Twitter.

Brian Panish, a lawyer representing the Hutchins family, said his investigation found charges were warranted. The cinematographer's husband, Matt Hutchins, sued Baldwin in 2021, alleging the Emmy-winning "30 Rock" and "Saturday Night Live" actor, and others, disregarded standard industry safety practices. Hutchins last year reached a settlement in which he became an executive producer of "Rust." Production was set to resume early in 2023 outside New Mexico.

New Mexico's worker safety agency in April fined the film's production company $137,000, the maximum amount possible, for what it described as "willful" safety lapses leading to Hutchins' death. Hours before the incident, camera operators walked off the set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, south of Santa Fe, protesting against what they saw as poor set safety and working conditions.

(This story has not been edited by Devdiscourse staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

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