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New Mexico prosecutors downgrade manslaughter charge against Alec Baldwin in ‘Rust’ shooting

Alec Baldwin on the “Rust” set immediately following the shooting of Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza. (Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office/TNS)
February 21, 2023

New Mexico prosecutors have downgraded felony penalties against Alec Baldwin and the armorer in the fatal “Rust” shooting, removing the threat that either could spend years in prison.

Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed were charged last month with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the Oct. 21, 2021, death of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the movie’s set south of Santa Fe.

The most serious charge included a “firearm enhancement” penalty that carried a maximum five years in prison, if convicted.

But state prosecutors backtracked on the firearm enhancement penalty after Baldwin’s attorneys argued the enhancement charge was improperly added. Baldwin’s team pointed to the fact that legislation mandating a five-year prison sentence had not taken effect in New Mexico until several months after the shooting took place.

The adjustment came Friday, when prosecutors filed an amendment to the criminal information, removing the firearm enhancement charge. The involuntary manslaughter charges that Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed now face carry an 18-month sentence.

“In order to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys, the District Attorney and the special prosecutor have removed the firearm enhancement to the involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Halyna Hutchins on the ‘Rust’ film set,” said Heather Brewer, spokesperson for Mary Carmack-Altwies, the 1st Judicial District’s district attorney.

“The prosecution’s priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys,” Brewer added.

Baldwin’s attorneys filed a motion earlier this month arguing the firearm enhancement penalty was “unconstitutional.” The current version of the firearm-enhancement statute, they argued, did not take effect until May 18, 2022 — about seven months after the accidental shooting, which also injured the film’s director, Joel Souza.

Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed still face two counts of involuntary manslaughter, although each could only be convicted of one count. That’s because New Mexico law allows prosecutors to bring charges “in the alternative,” which enables juries to decide which count is most applicable. In this instance, Carmack-Altwies recommended that Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed be convicted of involuntary manslaughter or, “in the alternative,” involuntary manslaughter and negligent use of a deadly weapon.

Initially, the prosecutors had announced the firearm enhancement penalty, saying it carried a mandatory five-year prison term. But when the shooting occurred in late 2021, the firearm enhancement penalty carried a three-year mandatory sentence.

Baldwin has denied responsibility for Hutchins’ death, citing negligence by other crew members who were supposed to oversee the weapons and safety on set.

David Halls, the assistant director of the low-budget western, accepted a plea deal last month, agreeing to plead no contest to a misdemeanor count of negligent use of a deadly weapon and received a suspended six-month sentence of unsupervised probation, according to documents viewed by the Los Angeles Times. Should he be called, Halls is required to testify in preliminary court hearings this spring or at trial.

Baldwin, who was also a producer in the film, has said that he did not pull the trigger of the Colt .45 pistol during a rehearsal of a gun-fight scene. The actor has acknowledged pulling back the gun’s hammer.

Earlier this month, Baldwin’s legal team asked the court to have the special prosecutor Andrea Reeb disqualified from the case, arguing the New Mexico Constitution prevents her as a state legislator from simultaneously holding a position in the judicial or executive branch of government.

Attorneys for Gutierrez Reed, the armorer, also challenged the firearm enhancement penalty.

Gutierrez Reed, 25, has acknowledged that she loaded the gun but has denied responsibility for Hutchins’ death. Gutierrez Reed, who was serving as the lead armorer on only her second film, said she was stretched too thin trying to serve as the weapons handler on the gun-heavy film as well as assistant prop master.

Separately, Rust Movie Productions, the company behind the troubled western, announced last week the producers planned restart production later the spring with the actors and some of the original crew returning. Producers had completed 12 days of filming when the deadly accident occurred.

Baldwin also is planning to resume his role in the film as grizzled outlaw Harland Rust.

The producers said they planned to add two safety officers to the crew, bar any use of weapons or ammunition and use union crew members. Hutchins’ widower, Matthew Hutchins, is joining the production as an executive producer.


© 2023 Los Angeles Times

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