Thursday, April 18, 2024

Alec Baldwin’s manslaughter charge over ‘Rust’ fatal shooting will be dismissed

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Prosecutors will dismiss an involuntary manslaughter charge against Alec Baldwin in the fatal 2021 shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the Western film “ Rust,” alluding to new revelations in the investigation while cautioning that Baldwin has not been absolved.

A follow-up investigation will remain active and an involuntary manslaughter charge against Hannah Gutierrez Reed, weapons supervisor on the film, remains unchanged, special prosecutors Kari Morrisey and Jason Lewis said. An online status hearing was scheduled Friday in state District Court for both defendants.

“New facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis,” the prosecutors said Thursday in a news release, without elaborating on those facts. “This decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled. Our follow-up investigation will remain active and on-going.”

Lawyers for Baldwin were first to announce that prosecutors were changing course, in a sharp turnaround for the Hollywood luminary who just a few months ago was confronting the possibility of a yearslong prison sentence.

“We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident,” defense attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro said in a statement.

Baldwin was pointing a pistol at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally and he did not pull the trigger. An FBI forensic report found the weapon could not have fired unless the trigger was pulled, however.

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

When the manslaughter charges were announced in January, Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said the case was about equal justice under the law and accountability in Hutchins’ death, regardless of the fame or fortune of those involved. She said the Ukrainian-born cinematographer’s death was tragic — and preventable.

A new legal team took over prosecution of Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed in late March, after the original special prosecutor appointed in the case resigned.

The dismissal of the charge against Baldwin, also a coproducer on “Rust,” abruptly changes the tenor of the investigation, said John Day, a Santa Fe-based criminal defense attorney who is not involved with the case.

“It does give the impression that the people left holding the bag are the lowest people on that chain,” Day said. “This is very different from what the original prosecutor said.”

When word of the dismissal came, Baldwin was at Yellowstone Film Ranch on the set of a rebooted “Rust” production. Preparations for filming were underway Thursday at its new location in Montana, 18 months after the shooting shut it down, a representative for Rust Movie Productions said.

Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys said they fully expect her to be exonerated in the judicial process.

“The truth about what happened will come out and the questions that we have long sought answers for will be answered,” the lawyers, Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion, said in a statement.

The case against Baldwin had already been diminishing. A weapons charge that could have meant a much longer sentence was dismissed.

The A-list actor’s 40-year career has included the early blockbuster “The Hunt for Red October” and a starring role in the sitcom “30 Rock,” as well as iconic appearances in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and a film adaptation of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In recent years he was known for his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”

The 65-year-old has worked little since the shooting but hardly went into hiding. He stayed active on social media, making Instagram videos, posting podcast interviews and pictures of his wife and seven children.

Plans to resume filming were outlined last year by the cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, in a proposed settlement to a wrongful death lawsuit that would make him an executive producer. Souza has said he will return to directing “Rust” to honor the legacy of Halyna Hutchins.

Despite the settlement, attorneys for the Hutchins family said they welcomed the criminal charges against Baldwin when they were filed. They had no immediate comment on the pending dismissal Thursday.

After a scathing safety review by regulators in New Mexico that detailed ignored complaints and misfires before Hutchins’ death in October 2021, the production company agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.

Baldwin has not traveled to New Mexico to appear in court, which is not required of him under state law. Evidentiary hearings had been scheduled for next month to determine whether to proceed toward trial.

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