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Alec Baldwin, ‘Rust’ crew member charged with involuntary manslaughter

Jan. 31, 2023 Updated Tue., Jan. 31, 2023 at 8:43 p.m.

Alec Baldwin on the “Rust” set immediately following the shooting of Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza.  (Tribune News Service)
Alec Baldwin on the “Rust” set immediately following the shooting of Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza. (Tribune News Service)
By Sonia Rao Washington Post

New Mexico prosecutors filed involuntary-manslaughter charges against Alec Baldwin and a member of his film crew Tuesday. An affidavit accused the actor of “many instances of extremely reckless acts or reckless failures to act” before he fatally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with a prop gun on the set of the Western “Rust” more than a year ago.

Baldwin and set armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were each charged with the felony, which can carry up to a five-year prison sentence, depending on how a jury decides the case. A third member of the production who allegedly handled the gun, first assistant director David Halls, was charged under a plea deal with negligent use of a deadly weapon.

“Today we have taken another important step in securing justice for Halyna Hutchins,” Mary Carmack-Altwies, district attorney for the Santa Fe area, said in a statement after previewing the charges earlier in January. “In New Mexico, no one is above the law and justice will be served.”

The affidavit alleges that Baldwin, who was producing “Rust” as well as starring in it, didn’t attend required firearms training before filming on the low-budget Western began on a film set near Santa Fe. He was rehearsing in a church building on Oct. 21, 2021, when a .45 Colt in his hands discharged and struck Hutchins, 42, who was pronounced dead at a hospital. The film’s director, Joel Souza, was injured but released from a hospital soon afterward.

While it remains unclear how live ammunition ended up in the weapon, a real gun never should have been there in the first place, according to the affidavit. “It was … determined by consultation with expert armorers that in a rehearsal, a plastic gun or replica gun should be used as no firing of blanks is required,” special investigator Robert Shilling wrote in the document.

Baldwin said in a television interview shortly after the incident: “I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them. Never.”

Shilling claims he did just that.

“Baldwin directly pointed a firearm at Hutchins and Souza,” the affidavit reads. “Whether guided by her (Hutchins’) directions or not, Baldwin knew the first rule of gun safety is never point a gun at someone you don’t intend on shooting. In addition, always assume a gun is loaded. Had Baldwin performed the required safety checks with the armorer, Reed, this tragedy would not have occurred.”

During a months-long investigation, Gutierrez-Reed told detectives she believed the Colt to be loaded with dummy rounds when she placed it in a cart for the crew. Halls retrieved the weapon and called out “cold gun” to indicate it did not contain any live rounds, then handed it to Baldwin for the rehearsal scene.

An internationally famous actor, Baldwin has made appearances in more than 100 projects since the 1980s, including films such as 1992’s “Glengarry Glen Ross” and a starring role in the hit sitcom “30 Rock.” He defended himself after the shooting in a television interview and through civil litigation, essentially pleading his innocence in the court of public opinion.

Hutchins’s family sued Baldwin and several crew members, producers and production companies but agreed to a settlement with the parties in October.

Prosecutors announced on Jan. 19 that they intended to pursue involuntary-manslaughter charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed. Each count carries a sentence of up to 18 month in jail, which could be enhanced to a mandatory five years if a jury determines that more than simple negligence was involved in the shooting.

Baldwin’s attorney, Luke Nikas, called the decision “a terrible miscarriage of justice” in a statement released earlier in January. Attorneys for Gutierrez-Reed pushed back, too, describing the charges as “the result of a very flawed investigation, and an inaccurate understanding of the full facts.”

Halls avoided the possibility of prison time by striking a plea agreement that includes a suspended sentence and six months of probation. His lawyer said the deal “is the best outcome for Mr. Halls and the case” when it was announced earlier in January.

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