For more than a year, actor Alec Baldwin has tried to defend himself against claims that he was responsible for the fatal shooting of a cameraman on the set of Rust, a low-budget western he was filming on the outskirts of Santa Fe, NM
He gave his report to detectives and told them he had been told the gun he was rehearsing with that day did not contain live ammunition. He stopped to speak to the paparazzi who followed his family to Vermont, sat down for a lengthy television interview, sought compensation from financial liability in the case, and then sued the crew members over the film, claiming they were responsible to hand him a loaded gun .
But on Thursday, prosecutors said they would charge him with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the killing of camerawoman Halyna Hutchins, 42, and said they believed he had a duty to ensure the revolver was safe to use.
“We’re trying to make it very clear that everyone is equal before the law, including A-list actors like Alec Baldwin,” said Andrea Reeb, a special prosecutor appointed by the Santa Fe County District Attorney to help handle the case , in an interview . “And we also want to make sure that the safety of the film industry is addressed and things like this don’t happen again.”
The film’s gunsmith, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who loaded the gun that day and was in charge of guns on the set, is also charged with two counts of manslaughter. The film’s first assistant director, Dave Halls, who presented the gun to Mr. Baldwin, agreed to a plea bargain for negligent use of a deadly weapon.
The criminal charges against Mr. Baldwin came as a surprise to many in the film industry and were fiercely contested by his legal team. An attorney for Mr Baldwin, Luke Nikas, said the prosecution’s decision “distorts the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins and constitutes a horrific miscarriage of justice.”
“Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the film set,” Mr. Nikas said in a statement Thursday. “He relied on the professionals he worked with to provide the assured him the gun had no live shots. We will fight these allegations and we will win.”
Mr Baldwin, 64, has been a household name as a Hollywood leading man for decades, a television star who played Jack Donaghy on ’30 Rock’ and former President Donald J. Trump on ‘Saturday Night Live’, a co-host at the Oscars and the voice of the New York Philharmonic’s radio broadcasts.
And he’s long scrutinized his offscreen behavior, including run-ins with paparazzi, an arrest for wrong-riding a bike on Fifth Avenue, an arrest in 2018 over a parking lot argument, and social media feuds.
But he has never experienced a crisis like the one he is facing now.
Since the shooting, Mr Baldwin had been trying to strike a delicate balance: publicly proclaiming his innocence to protect his reputation and career while trying to stay out of legal danger.
He appeared on national television, where he said he had been told the gun he was using that day contained no live shots, adding that he was only following directions when pointing it at the cameraman directed. “Someone is responsible for what happened and I can’t say who it is, but I know it’s not me,” he said in the interview.
Privately, according to a police report, he complained to a detective investigating the case in the fall that “if your name is associated with something, nobody wants to work with you anymore – nobody”.
If a jury found Mr Baldwin or Ms Gutierrez-Reed guilty, they would choose between the two manslaughter charges. The more serious involves a firearm upgrade and a mandatory five-year sentence; the other charge carries a prison sentence of up to 18 months.
The criminal charges against Mr Baldwin are sure to raise questions about film set safety and who is responsible. Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in an interview that Mr. Baldwin had a duty to ensure the gun and ammunition were properly checked and that he should never have pointed them at anyone. “You shouldn’t point a gun at someone you don’t intend to shoot,” she said in an interview. “That goes to basic safety standards.”
Ms. Gutierrez-Reed, the gunsmith who was in charge of the guns on set and who loaded the gun that day, told investigators after the shooting that she found the gun and all six rounds that she found in Mr. Baldwin’s gun loaded, but she also remarked to investigators, “I wish I had checked it more.”
One of her attorneys, Jason Bowles, said his client was not responsible for involuntary manslaughter and called the investigation into the case “flawed”.
Filming on October 21, 2021, which also left the film’s director Joel Souza injured, took place in a small set meant to look like a church.
The film’s first assistant director, Mr. Halls, 63, who had taken the revolver from a gray two-tiered tray set up by Ms. Gutierrez-Reed outside the church and handed it to Mr. Baldwin, shouting “cold gun,” which indicating, according to court records, that it contained no live ammunition. He agreed to a plea deal, admitting there was enough evidence to convict him of negligent use of a deadly weapon.
An attorney for Mr. Halls, Lisa Torraco, said in a statement that “he can now put this matter behind him and allow the focus of this tragedy to be on the shooting victims, their families and changing the industry so that this kind of.” Accident will never happen again.”
Prosecutors said they found it was part of film industry standards for actors to ensure the guns they used on set were safe for them to handle, and said they interviewed several actors who pointed out the the importance of these protocols. Mr. Baldwin has dismissed this idea in the past, saying that from his experience on film sets, it is not the practice for actors to check their own guns.
Ms. Reeb, the special prosecutor, said Ms. Gutierrez-Reed was also responsible for ensuring there were no live shells on the guns on set, and said in an interview that she should have taken every shell out of the gun and shook it in in front of the actor – one Practice helping to confirm that the rounds are dummies, inactive cartridges used to resemble real ammo in a movie.
After the shooting, authorities found five more live rounds on set, including on the cart used to store props and in a belt Mr. Baldwin wore as a costume piece. The Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigation hasn’t answered a key question in the case: how live ammunition ended up on a movie set.
Ms. Reeb, the special prosecutor, said the aspect of the case was still unclear. “We may never answer that question,” she said.
The tragedy has prompted several lawsuits, including from crew members, who have accused the production of failing to properly follow safety protocols.
During interviews with the sheriff’s office, some crew members described a lack of consistent meetings dedicated to on-set safety. The night before the shoot, most of the cameramen had resigned over complaints about lodging and other concerns; In an email to other people on set informing them he was leaving, Lane Luper, the director of photography, wrote that filming gunfight scenes played out “very fast and loose,” citing two accidental ones gun shots.
An attorney for Ms Gutierrez-Reed, 25, who was trained on film sets by her father, a veteran Hollywood gunsmith named Thell Reed, previously said she filled two roles on the “Rust” set — as a gunsmith and a props assistant She finds it difficult to concentrate fully on her job as a weaponsmith.
Mr Baldwin claimed he was not responsible for the shooting and said Ms Hutchins gave him instructions on where to point the gun and that he did not pull the trigger before the gun was fired. He told investigators he pulled the hammer back and released it in an action that may have set it off.
“I know 1,000 percent that I am not responsible for what happened to her,” Mr Baldwin told an investigator, Detective Alexandria Hancock, in a phone call after the shooting.
Ms Carmack-Altwies said an FBI analysis of the gun “conclusively” showed the trigger had been pulled.
Prosecutors said the people they plan to charge this month will not be arrested but are expected to make a virtual court appearance. A judge in New Mexico will then oversee a preliminary hearing on the charges and determine if there is likely reason to proceed.
Ms Gutierrez-Reed has also accused Seth Kenney, the film’s main supplier of guns and ammunition, of being responsible for the shooting and in a lawsuit against him and his company claimed that the shipment he sent to the set mixed live ammunition contained in with dummy rounds.
Mr Kenney said he checked all the ammunition he provided to production to make sure they were not live and said in a statement that on-set handling of the guns and ammunition was a responsibility by Mrs. Gutierrez-Reed.
Last year, Matthew Hutchins, Ms. Hutchins’ widower, agreed to settle his wrongful death lawsuit against the production of “Rust.” As part of the deal, Mr. Hutchins would executive produce Rust, which was scheduled to resume filming this month. It wasn’t immediately clear how the proposed fees would affect those plans.
An attorney for Mr. Hutchins, Brian J. Panish, said in a statement that he concurred with the decision to file criminal charges.
“It is a comfort to the family that no one is above the law in New Mexico,” said Mr. Panish. “We support the charges, will cooperate fully with this prosecutor’s office and fervently hope that the justice system works to protect the public and hold those who break the law accountable.”