SANTA FE, NM — Alec Baldwin is facing another charge of felony involuntary manslaughter after a grand jury indicted the actor in connection with the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of a Western movie in New Mexico in 2021.
Baldwin, who starred and co-produced “Rust,” pointed a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal on a movie set outside Santa Fe, and the gun went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.
A new analysis of the gun has cleared the way for prosecutors to reopen the case after a manslaughter charge was dismissed last year. A new one-page indictment handed up by a grand jury on Friday alleges that Baldwin caused Hutchins’ death — either through negligence or “total disregard or indifference” to safety.
Baldwin’s defense attorneys say they will fight the charge, which carries a prison sentence of up to 18 months.
Here are some things you need to know about the case.
Baldwin can present a formal defense and set trial preparations in motion, with or without a court hearing.
The indictment presents prosecutors with two alternative standards for premeditated murder against Baldwin. One of these is based on negligent use of a firearm.
Baldwin said he pulled back the gun’s hammer but did not pull the trigger and the gun went off. But a recent analysis of the gun Baldwin used from Lucien and Michael Haag of Forensic Science Services in Arizona concluded that “the trigger must have been pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence gun.” Michael Haag testified before a grand jury this week, according to the new indictment.
An earlier FBI report on the agency’s analysis of the gun found that an uncocked hammer could be fired without pulling the trigger if force was applied to it (such as dropping the gun), as is common with firearms of this design. The gun eventually broke during testing.
A second alternative for prosecutors is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin caused Hutchins’ death without due caution or “prudence,” which is also defined as “an act committed with complete disregard or indifference to the safety of others.”
Baldwin as co-producer
Prosecutors declined to answer questions Friday after spending nearly a day and a half presenting their case to a grand jury.
Santa Fe-based defense attorney and former prosecutor John Day, who is not connected to the case, believes the indictment gives prosecutors the opportunity to fulfill Baldwin’s security obligations as a co-producer.
“We don’t know exactly what their theory is,” Day said. “They could have basically incorporated the role of the CEO of the production into it… when there is no safe workplace, someone dies and you end up at the top of the pyramid.”
The company, Rust Movie Productions, paid a $100,000 fine to state workplace safety regulators after a scathing narrative of safety failures that violated standard industry protocols; This includes statements that production executives took limited or no action to resolve two misfires on the set before the fatal shooting.
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Separately, special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis are preparing for a February hearing against “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the case.
This hearing will likely proceed independently and could give Baldwin’s attorneys insight into prosecution strategies and the testimony of key witnesses who are likely to testify in cases against Baldwin.
“His attorneys will certainly be watching the armorer’s trial closely,” said Kate Mangels, a Los Angeles-based entertainment litigator and defense attorney who is not involved in the case. “It can provide a preview of the prosecution’s approach and the potential witness’ testimony.”
Baldwin’s case was assigned to Santa Fe-based state District Court Judge T. Glenn Ellington, who specializes in criminal cases. The Gutierrez-Reed case is being overseen by a different judge.
“We look forward to our day in court,” said Baldwin’s defense attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro.
Two of the witnesses seen at the courthouse included members of the team; one was present at the time of the fatal shooting, and the other had left the set the day before due to safety concerns.
“Rust” assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls was sentenced to six months probation last March after pleading no contest to unsafe handling of a firearm. He agreed to cooperate with the shooting investigation.
New court records Friday show “Rust” prop master Sarah Zachry signed an agreement to cooperate with special prosecutors in exchange for leniency. Zachry worked closely with Gutierrez-Reed on set to provide weapons and ammunition.
Mangels said the grand jury indictment is in no way a guarantee that prosecutors will prevail at trial.
“Just getting an indictment from a grand jury in no way means that the prosecution has a slam-dunk case or even a strong case,” he said.