Baldwin charged for 'reckless acts' leading to 'Rust' shooting
Jan 31 (Reuters) - Actor Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday for showing a "reckless" disregard for safety that led to the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Western movie "Rust" in New Mexico in 2021, according to court documents.
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies filed charges following months of speculation as to whether she had evidence that Baldwin acted with criminal negligence when a revolver with which he was rehearsing fired a live round that killed Hutchins.
Baldwin and set armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were each charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. The most serious charge, which carries a potential sentence of five years in jail, would require prosecutors to convince a jury that Baldwin acted with willful disregard for the safety of others.
A lawyer for Baldwin declined to comment. Gutierrez-Reed's lawyer said the prosecutor had "completely misunderstood the facts and has reached the wrong conclusions."
Baldwin's case is remarkable in that there is little or no precedent for a Hollywood actor to face criminal charges for an on-set shooting.
A statement of probable cause by the prosecution's special investigator, Robert Shilling, made clear Baldwin was being charged as an actor and producer on the low-budget movie.
Baldwin's failure to get sufficient firearms training, check with the armorer whether the revolver was loaded, or address safety complaints from crew were cited by Shilling as some of his many "extremely reckless acts or reckless failures to act" in the 10-day period leading up to Hutchins' death.
The "30 Rock" actor has denied responsibility for the shooting inside a movie-set church, saying Hutchins directed him to point the gun at the camera, he cocked the revolver but never pulled the trigger.
Baldwin said live ammunition should never have been allowed on the set and it was the job of Gutierrez-Reed and first assistant director Dave Halls to ensure the gun was unloaded, a position supported by many actors and the SAG-AFTRA union.
Videos from inside the church prior to the shooting show Baldwin with his finger on the trigger, Shilling said.
An FBI forensic test of the revolver found it "functioned normally" and would not fire without the trigger being pulled.
The prosecution used Baldwin's comments to media against him, saying the investigation showed he deviated from firearm safety protocols that he laid out in television interviews.
"Baldwin would have been better served not making public statements about these incidents," said Kate Mangels, an attorney with entertainment law firm Kinsella Weitzman Iser Kump Holley.
Still, prosecutors could face long odds convincing a jury Baldwin is criminally liable as he was assured the gun was not loaded and it will be difficult to blame him for all the movie's alleged safety failures, legal analysts said
No other "Rust" producer has been charged.
Charging documents held Gutierrez-Reed responsible for "allowing live ammunition on the set," but did not accuse her of physically introducing them onto the production.
Gutierrez-Reed has said she brought two boxes of dummy rounds onto the set from a previous movie. Supply company PDQ Arms and Prop also provided dummy rounds and blanks. An FBI test found live long Colt .45 rounds taken from PDQ in Albuquerque did not match those found at the movie set, including the round that killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.
As armorer responsible for firearm safety and training, Gutierrez-Reed failed to provide sufficient instruction to Baldwin, check rounds loaded into the revolver or remain present in the rehearsal to ensure the actor did not point the weapon at Hutchins, the special investigator said.
Gutierrez-Reed has said she checked that the rounds were dummies before handing the gun to Halls and leaving the church due to COVID protocols. Halls then handed it to Baldwin, telling him it was a "cold gun," meaning it did not contain an explosive charge, according to police.
Halls has signed a plea deal for a misdemeanor charge and is expected to cooperate with the prosecution.
Gutierrez-Reed has said producers denied her requests for extra firearms training, including with Baldwin.
Gabrielle Pickle, line producer on the movie, on Dec. 20 testified to New Mexico's worker safety agency (OSHA) that all of Gutierrez-Reed's requests for extra days for armorer duties were granted.
On Dec. 7 Gutierrez-Reed testified to OSHA that Baldwin's lack of knowledge and "poor form" in using a revolver may have led to the discharge that killed Hutchins.
Her lawyer Jason Bowles said Halls, her senior in the production, was at fault for not calling Gutierrez-Reed back into the church to perform her armorer duties.
"We will fight these charges and expect that a jury will find Hannah not guilty," he said in a statement.
The defendants face a court arraignment, which can be done virtually, then a preliminary hearing where a judge will decide whether there is probable cause to move forward with a trial. Preliminary hearings are typically scheduled within 60 days of charges being filed.
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