New Mexico prosecutors have downgraded felony involuntary manslaughter charges against Alec Baldwin on Tuesday in connection to the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust in 2021.
Attorneys for both Baldwin and armorer Hannah Guttierez-Reed, who supplied the weapons on the set of the independent film, had argued that they had been incorrectly charged with manslaughter under a New Mexico firearm law that had actually been passed months after the shooting took place on Oct. 21, 2021. A lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed told the New York Times that the updated charges “reflected good ethical standards and was correct on the facts and law.”
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On Jan. 19, following a lengthy investigation, the New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney’s Office had announced manslaughter charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed stemming from the Oct. 2021 shooting. First assistant director David Halls was hit with a negligent use of a deadly weapon charge; Halls has already agreed to plead guilty to that count.
“On the day of the shooting alone, evidence shows that no less than a dozen acts, or omissions of recklessness, occurred in the short time prior to lunch and the time of the shooting, and this does not include the reckless handling of the firearm by Baldwin,” the probable cause statement filed against Baldwin in January alleged, in part, according to documents obtained by New Mexico’s KRQE News.
“By act or omission or failure to act in his position as a producer directly contributed and/or failed to mitigate numerous reckless and dangerous actions during a very short time period.”
“After a thorough review of the evidence and the laws of the state of New Mexico, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin and other members of the ‘Rust’ film crew,” New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in a statement when the charges were announced. “On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice.”
“If any one of these three people—Alec Baldwin, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or David Halls—had done their job, Halyna Hutchins would be alive today. It’s that simple,” Andrea Reeb, the special prosecutor appointed by the DA to the case, added. “The evidence clearly shows a pattern of criminal disregard for safety on the Rust movie set. In New Mexico, there is no room for film sets that don’t take our state’s commitment to gun safety and public safety seriously.”
According to the District Attorney’s Office, both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed were “‘charged in the alternative’ with the two counts of manslaughter, meaning that a jury would decide not simply if they were guilty, but under which definition of involuntary manslaughter they were guilty.” If found guilty of just involuntary manslaughter, a fourth-degree felony, both would have faced up to 18 months in prison. However, if found guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act, which includes a “firearm enhancement” on the charge, the punishment was a mandatory five-year prison sentence.
Under the amended charges, Baldwin now faces a maximum of 18 months in prison. In a statement to the New York Times, Heather Brewer, a representative for the district attorney, said she had downgraded the charges to “avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys.”
Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was wounded during a rehearsal on the set Rust on Oct. 21, 2021. The incident occurred when Baldwin inadvertently discharged a prop gun that had been loaded with a live round, believing the prop had been “cold.” There have been numerous investigations into the incident by various government agencies, from the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office to the FBI.
The New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney’s Office had also been conducting its own investigations, with recent actions suggesting it was gearing up to file charges. Back on Sept. 23, The New Mexican reported that the state Board of Finance had awarded the DA’s office over $317,000 (out of a requested $635,000) to prosecute people connected to the shooting. While District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies declined to say who would face criminal charges at the time, the original funding request noted Baldwin as one of “the possible defendants.”
The shooting has prompted several civil lawsuits (as well as some fines). Most notably, Hutchins’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baldwin, Rust producer Ryan Donnell Smith, Gutierrez-Reed, assistant director Dave Halls, prop master Sarah Zachary, and “armorer mentor” Seth Kenney.
The Hutchins family lawsuit read in part, “Halyna Hutchins deserved to live and the Defendants had the power to prevent her death if they had only held sacrosanct their duty to protect the safety of every individual on a set where firearms were present instead of cutting corners on safety procedures where human lives were at stake, rushing to stay on schedule and ignoring numerous complaints of safety violations.” (Baldwin has denied responsibility for Hutchins’ death and demanded the wrongful death suit be taken to arbitration in a filing this past March.)
This story was updated on February 20 to reflect the updated charges.
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