More than a year after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot by Alec Baldwin on the “Rust” movie set, prosecutors announced they will charge the actor and the film’s armorer with involuntary manslaughter, accusing the pair of failing to perform essential firearm safety duties that could have prevented the tragic accident.
Hutchins was killed on the film’s New Mexico set in October 2021 when a prop gun Baldwin was holding fired a live round of ammunition, striking Hutchins in the chest and hitting director Joel Souza in the shoulder.
Baldwin has maintained that he never pulled the trigger and was not aware the gun contained live rounds. Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the set armorer who loaded the prop gun, says she believed the rounds were dummy ammunition, according to her lawyer.
Prosecutors, however, say both Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed were responsible for checking the safety of the prop.
“Every person that handles a gun has a duty to make sure that if they’re going to handle that gun, point it at someone and pull the trigger, that it is not going to fire a projectile and kill someone,” New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies told CNN Thursday.
Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed will each face two counts of involuntary manslaughter, but each count carries a different level of punishment, Carmack-Altwies said when she announced the charges.
A jury will decide which count may be more appropriate and, if convicted, they will only be sentenced to one count, the prosecutor said.
In either case, a conviction is punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. But one charge carries an additional firearms enhancement – because a gun was involved – and would require a mandatory punishment of five years in jail, the prosecutor said.
The charges will be formally filed by the end of the month, Carmack-Altwies told CNN.
The prosecutor said she will not request the arrests of Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed. Instead, they will be summoned to appear in court either in-person or virtually, she said.
As the trial looms, CNN senior legal analyst Elie Honig says prosecutors will have to overcome significant challenges, including not knowing how live rounds got on set and experts’ varying opinions on the on-set responsibilities of actors and crew members.
“Remember, this is a criminal case. You need all 12 jurors to find guilt beyond a reasonable doubt. So I’m not saying that there’s no chance here, but this is a really difficult case for the prosecution,” Honig said.
Though a medical examiner determined Hutchins’ death was an accident, prosecutors argue the “fast and loose” safety standards on set and lack of caution around firearms props contributed to the fatal shooting.
“There was such a lack of safety and safety standards on that set,” Carmack-Altwies told CNN, adding that live rounds were mixed with dummy rounds on set.
“Nobody was checking those or at least they weren’t checking them consistently,” she said. “And then they somehow got loaded into a gun handed off to Alec Baldwin. He didn’t check it. He didn’t do any of the things that he was supposed to do to make sure that he was safe or that anyone around him was safe. And then he pointed the gun at Halyna Hutchins and he pulled the trigger.”
Baldwin has said he did not pull the trigger before the gun fired.
During FBI testing of the the gun’s normal functioning, the weapon could not be fired without pulling the trigger while firearm was cocked, an FBI forensics report said. Eventually, the gun malfunctioned during testing after internal parts fractured, which caused the gun to go off in the cocked position without pulling the trigger, the report said.
In addition to acting in “Rust,” Baldwin was also producing the film. Prosecutors will be charging him in both capacities, Carmack-Altwies explained, saying that as a producer, Baldwin had a responsibility to ensure the set was safe.
Ultimately, the prosecutor said, “just because it’s an accident doesn’t mean that it’s not criminal.”
“Our involuntary manslaughter statute covers unintentional killings,” she said. “Unintentional that means they didn’t mean to do it. They didn’t have the intent to kill. But it happened anyway, and it happened because of more than mere negligence… They didn’t exercise due caution or circumspection and that’s what happened here.”
Baldwin’s attorney Luke Nikas said the actor was “blindsided” by the charges, which Nikas called “a terrible miscarriage of justice.”
“Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun – or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds,” Nikas said.
The executive director of the entertainment union SAG-AFTRA called the anticipated charges against Baldwin “wrong and uninformed.”
“The charges clearly indicate a lack of understanding about the standards and expectations of how a film set operates,” Duncan Crabtree-Ireland told CNN’s Laura Coates. “The fact is, actors are not firearms experts. Actors cannot be expected and are not expected to do final safety checks or anything of that nature.”
Gutierrez Reed’s attorney Jason Bowles said, “We were expecting the charges but they’re absolutely wrong as to Hannah – we expect that she will be found not guilty by a jury and she did not commit manslaughter.”
Hutchins’ family said in a statement Thursday that they support the charges and “fervently hope the justice system works to protect the public and hold accountable those who break the law.”
“It is a comfort to the family that, in New Mexico, no one is above the law,” the statement said.
In an interview with CNN in August, Baldwin said he believes the responsibility falls on Gutierrez Reed and assistant director Dave Halls, who handed him the gun.
However, Halls and Gutierrez Reed have repeatedly said they are not at fault and accuse Baldwin of attempting to shuffle off blame for the accident.
Gutierrez Reed maintains she did not know there were live rounds in the ammunition on set and has sued the film’s gun and ammunition supplier and its founder, who deny wrongdoing. She claims live rounds of ammunition were mixed into the dummy ammunition purchased from the company.
Halls has signed a plea deal on a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, which grants him six months of probation and a suspended sentence, Carmack-Altwies’ office said.
Hutchins’ family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Baldwin and others involved in the movie’s production, and reached an undisclosed settlement in the suit in October.
As part of the settlement agreement, Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, was set to be an executive producer on “Rust” when it resumed filming.