SANTA FE, N.M. – Alec Baldwin faces two types of manslaughter charges in a reckoning on gun safety and the film industry, with two potential standards for proof and possible sanctions of up to five years in prison.
Prosecutors have vowed to file those charges before February against the 64-year-old actor and weapons specialist Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the Western movie “Rust” in October 2021.
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies says the case is about equal justice under the law and accountability in the death of Halyna Hutchins, regardless of the fame or fortune of those involved.
She says the Ukrainian-born cinematographer's death while rehearsing a scene was tragic — and preventable.
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed maintain their innocence and have vowed to fight the charges, which were announced Thursday. Here is a look at the case:
One charge of involuntary manslaughter will require proof of negligence. It's punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine under New Mexico law.
The second manslaughter charge is for reckless disregard of safety “without due caution and circumspection.” It carries a higher threshold of wrongdoing and includes a “firearm enhancement” that could result in a mandatory five years in prison because the offense was committed with a gun.
Prosecutors say a jury may ultimately decide which definition of manslaughter to pursue. But first a judge will have 60 days to weigh whether there is sufficient evidence to proceed.
Santa Fe District Defender Julie Ball says initial evidence of probable cause is typically weighed in favor of prosecutors, using a lower burden of proof than later at trial.
Involuntary manslaughter can involve a killing that happens while a defendant is doing something that is lawful but dangerous.
THE DEFENSE AND THE PROSECUTION
Baldwin has said he had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun he discharged.
That defense is complicated by his role as both lead actor and co-producer on “Rust.” State workplace safety regulators have fined Rust Movie Productions based on a string of safety failures, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires of blank ammunition on the set prior to the shooting.
Defense attorneys also maintain the innocence of Gutierrez-Reed, the daughter of veteran sharpshooter and film consultant Thell Reed. Gutierrez-Reed was hired at age 24, with limited prior experience on a handful of films, to supervise weapons, ammunition and training on “Rust.”
Carmack-Altwies says a movie set armorer has the responsibility to ensure ammunition and guns are handled safety and has the authority to halt rehearsals or filming at any time when concerns arise.
The district attorney alleges that Gutierrez-Reed without noticing somehow loaded a bullet into the gun that killed Hutchins and should have noticed the difference between a live and a dummy round.
Dummy rounds typically rattle when shaken — the sound of a BB inside — and have a dimpled base or other possible markings. Blanks contain a charge but have no slug or bullet at the tip.
At the same time, New Mexico workplace safety regulators say “Rust” managers limited Gutierrez-Reed's ability to require safety and weapons training for people including Baldwin, and that a request for more training was rebuffed. Rust Movie Productions disputes the findings and sanctions.
The fatal shot was fired at a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe shortly after a lunch break, as Baldwin gathered inside a clapboard chapel with a dozen cast and crew members — the director, a scriptwriter, lighting and sound technicians, a safety coordinator and Hutchins — to rehearse a scene in which Baldwin draws a pistol from across his waist.
Law enforcement interviews indicate that Gutierrez-Reed remained outside.
Authorities say Baldwin was pointing the gun at Hutchins when he fired it, striking her in the chest and hitting director Joel Souza in the shoulder.
No movie cameras were filming at the time, but lapel camera video from law enforcement officers shows a chaotic aftermath as Hutchins slips in and out of consciousness and an evacuation helicopter arrives, to no avail.
The assistant director who handed Baldwin the gun, David Halls, has agreed to plead guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon. It’s unclear if he has agreed to testify in court.
Defense attorney Luke Nikas says Baldwin relied on professionals who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. The actor has sought to clear his name by suing people involved in handling and supplying the weapon.
In that lawsuit, Baldwin says that while working on camera angles with Hutchins, he pointed the gun in her direction and pulled back and released the hammer of the weapon, and it discharged.
Prosecutors say they will rely on an FBI analysis that shows the gun would not have gone off without the trigger being pulled. They say it was incumbent on Baldwin to know the gun and its ammunition and to handle them safely.
A yearlong investigation by Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza did not establish how live ammunition wound up on the film set, something that industry experts say should never happen.
Investigators initially found 500 rounds — a mix of blanks, dummies and what appeared to be live bullets.
Carmack Altwies says her team is unlikely to resolve how they got there — and that she isn't that interested in doing so. For her the important matter is that nobody detected the live rounds and one was allowed to be loaded into the gun.