On Thursday, a New Mexico prosecutor announced that actor Alec Baldwin will be charged with involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during production of the film “Rust” in the state.
Santa Fe’s top prosecutor, Mary Carmack-Altwies, has announced that the western’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, would also be charged with involuntary manslaughter. By the end of the month, he claimed, all charges would have been submitted.
Even though Hutchins’ family was relieved to hear the news, Baldwin attorney Luke Nikas said, “this decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice.”
The decision to press charges against Baldwin came after a year-long inquiry into what happened in October 2021, when Baldwin was practicing with a real firearm on the set of the movie being shot outside Santa Fe, the state capital. In addition to killing Hutchins, the.45-caliber bullet that struck and injured Souza also killed Hutchins.
How real bullets made way onto the set was not discovered by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office investigation.
It was the assistant director, David Halls, who reportedly gave the revolver to Baldwin and informed the actor that it was “cold,” an industry phrase for having no ammunition (not even blanks).
Halls has reached a plea deal with prosecutors, therefore he will be pleading guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon, Carmack-Altwies said in a statement. This gun had previously been in Gutierrez-hands Reed’s before Halls picked it up.
Prosecutors told many media sites that performers should make sure firearms are safe to handle and should follow basic gun rules like not pointing weapons at people as part of industry standards.
Baldwin has countered this by claiming that he was told to aim the handgun at the cinematographer and that the responsibility for the firearm’s safety rested with the armorer and the original director.
“On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice,” Carmack-Altwies said in her statement.
Experts say the prosecution may have a hard time convicting Baldwin since he was not required to check the pistol for himself if he was told by set workers that it was unloaded.
“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.”
The prosecutor has said that both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will face two counts of involuntary manslaughter, meaning that the jury will have to decide not only whether or not they are guilty, but also under whatever legal definition of the felony.
Negligent homicide is considered “simple involuntary manslaughter,” and it carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in jail and a fine of $5,000. Each of them could face a mandatory five-year prison term if prosecutors establish beyond a reasonable doubt that negligent use of a handgun was a factor.
Baldwin claims he was not the one to shoot Hutchins with the replica Pietta.45 caliber long Colt revolver, and he has denied any involvement in the death.
‘WE WILL FIGHT THESE CHARGES’
An FBI forensic examination concluded that the handgun “functioned normally” and would not discharge until the trigger was 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.
Instructions on firearms from the actors’ union Actors are required by SAG-AFTRA to treat firearms as if they were unloaded and to follow the instructions of weapons handlers, who will tell them when it is safe to point a gun at a person 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.”
The actor Kirk Acevedo, who starred in HBO’s “Band of Brothers” about the Second World War, was one of the many who spoke out in Baldwin’s defense.
“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 said on Twitter.
The Hutchins’ attorney, Brian Panish, said his client’s inquiry confirmed criminal charges were appropriate.
Matt Hutchins, cinematographer and husband of Baldwin, filed suit against the actor in 2021, claiming he and the Emmy-winning “30 Rock” and “Saturday Night Live” star ignored industry safety standards. In a deal made last year, Hutchins was given the position of executive producer on the Netflix series “Rust.” It was anticipated that production would pick back up in states other than New Mexico in the first few months of 2023.
In April, the state of New Mexico’s worker safety bureau levied a $137,000 fine against the film’s production firm for “willful” safety violations that contributed to Hutchins’ death.
At the Bonanza Creek Ranch south of Santa Fe, camera operators had walked off the set hours before the tragedy occurred in protest of what they viewed as poor safety and working conditions.
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