US prosecutors to drop charges against Alec Baldwin in Rust death

Lawyers for Baldwin say New Mexico prosecutors have dismissed involuntary manslaughter charge in fatal on-set incident.

Actor Alec Baldwin departs his home in New York
Actor Alec Baldwin has pleaded not guilty in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins [File: David 'Dee' Delgado/Reuters]

Lawyers for United States actor Alec Baldwin have said prosecutors in the southwestern state of New Mexico plan to drop criminal charges against their client, following a fatal 2021 shooting on the set of the movie Rust.

“We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident,” Baldwin’s lawyers, Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro, said in a statement on Thursday.

Prosecutors from New Mexico’s First Judicial District did not immediately issue a response.

Baldwin, 65, previously faced a charge of involuntary manslaughter, a felony, in the on-set death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on October 21, 2021.

The actor-producer had been filming a Western movie on a ranch south of Santa Fe when the prop firearm he was handling went off, killing Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

An aerial view of a desert film set, populated by small houses and structures
The death occurred during filming at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico [File: Drone Base/Reuters]

In January, New Mexico prosecutors filed charges against Baldwin, claiming he failed to appear for mandatory firearm training before filming and uphold safety standards on set.

“Baldwin’s failure to ensure minimum standards were met is considered reckless in the industry,” the prosecutors wrote in a probable cause statement. “This reckless deviation from known standards and practice and protocol directly caused the fatal shooting.”

They added that Baldwin showed “negligent” behaviour by pointing a real firearm at Souza and Hutchins and placing his finger on the trigger.

Baldwin pleaded not guilty to the charges and has maintained that he thought the gun was unloaded.

He also initially said that he had not pulled the trigger, but a subsequent investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) revealed that the gun “functioned normally” and would not have fired otherwise.

In February, however, prosecutors agreed to downgrade the charges against Baldwin, after his legal team argued that charging him under a firearm-enhancement law that was passed after the shooting would be unlawful.

That firearm-enhancement law would have set the minimum sentence for a guilty verdict at five years. Removing the enhancement dropped the maximum sentence to 18 months.

There have also been two high-profile departures from the prosecution team in recent months.

Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb was forced to step down in March after Baldwin’s lawyers argued her appointment was unconstitutional, as she had also been recently elected to the state legislature.

Shortly thereafter, Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies also withdrew from the case, appointing two new special prosecutors instead.

Baldwin had previously reached a settlement with the Hutchins family, who called the shooting a “terrible accident”.

As part of the settlement, her widower, Matthew Hutchins, was named executive producer on the film, which resumed shooting on Thursday at Montana’s Yellowstone Film Ranch set.

Rust’s weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed also faced manslaughter charges for her alleged role in the fatal shooting and likewise pleaded not guilty.

Jason Bowles, a lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed, released a statement that he was aware of Thursday’s developments but that the charge against his client had not been revoked. He added, though, that he expected his client to be found innocent.

Assistant director and safety coordinator Dave Halls agreed to a guilty plea for negligent use of a deadly weapon earlier this year. He was sentenced on March 31 to six months probation, as well as given a $500 fine and community service.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies