Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin has been formally charged in New Mexico with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the western film Rust.
Baldwin has vowed to fight the two counts against him, with his lawyer calling the case a “terrible miscarriage of justice”.
A live round killed Halyna Hutchins, 42, after a prop gun held by the 64-year-old star was discharged during rehearsals for the movie in October 2021.
The charges – which could see Baldwin sent to jail for up to five years – would require prosecutors to convince a jury that Baldwin was not just negligent but reckless in his use of a firearm.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for weapons on the Rust set, has also been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Legal experts have said prosecutors will struggle to win convictions without proof Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed knew live ammunition was present but took no precautions.
In a statement of probable cause of Hutchins’s death, the Santa Fe District Attorney listed several problems with Baldwin’s conduct.
- Baldwin was not present for required firearms training
- After failing to show up to this training, he received a 30-minute on-set training during which he was distracted talking to his family on the phone
- He exhibited “reckless behaviour” in the lead up to Hutchins’s death
- He had pointed the firearm at Hutchins in the lead up to the incident violating gun safety rules
- Baldwin had not performed the required safety checks with Gutierrez-Reed
- He broke protocol by letting Gutierrez-Reed leave the church set
- He did not deal with safety complaints on set
- He did not use a replica firearm for the unscheduled rehearsal
- He allowed the hiring of Gutierrez-Reed, who had worked on just one production before the movie, which showed he “failed to demand the minimum safety standards, protocols, and requirements on set”
The District Attorney also said that on the day of the shooting, there were “no less than a dozen acts, or omissions of recklessness” on the set before the incident, not including the actor’s handling of the gun.
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“Baldwin’s deviation from known standards, practice and protocol directly caused the fatal death of Hutchins,” the District Attorney said.
Both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be required to appear in court – in person or virtually – within 30 days.
The District Attorney and special prosecutor will then present their case to the judge, who will rule whether there is probable cause to move forward with a trial.
Hutchins’s family welcomed the charges when they were announced earlier in January, saying Baldwin showed “conscious disregard for human life”.
Rust assistant director Dave Halls is facing negligent use of a deadly weapon charges. He has pleaded no contest and has entered into a plea agreement that is pending approval.
Industry-wide firearms safety guidelines instruct actors to assume a firearm is loaded with blanks and rely on professional weapons handlers to ensure a weapon is safe.
Actors are told to only point a weapon at a person under the guidance of firearms professionals. Live ammunition is strictly forbidden on sets.
Gutierrez-Reed said she checked the rounds she loaded in the revolver were dummies before handing it to Halls.
Halls handed it to Baldwin, telling him it was a “cold gun” or unloaded, according to police.
Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyer, Jason Bowles, said: “Hannah pleaded to provide more firearms training. She was denied and brushed aside.”
He added: “We will fight these charges and expect that a jury will find Hannah not guilty.”
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The decision on charges was made about three months after prosecutors received the final report on the shooting from the Santa Fe sheriff’s office, following a lengthy investigation also involving the FBI.
The sheriff’s office investigation has yet to reveal how live ammunition got onto the set.
Baldwin and the Rust production company reached a civil settlement for an undisclosed amount with Hutchins’s family in October and announced that production of the film would resume this year. After the criminal charges were announced, the film’s lawyer confirmed Baldwin would remain in the lead role in the film.
Hutchins’s husband Matt will also remain executive producer – and Joel Souza, who was injured in the shooting, is returning as director.