22 Apr 2023

Alec Baldwin prosecution in 'Rust' case bungled from start, experts say

9:39 pm on 22 April 2023
(FILES) This handout image courtesy of Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office released April 25, 2022 and part of the investigative files, shows actor Alec Baldwin being processed after the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 21, 2022. - Filming will resume this week on Alec Baldwin's "Rust," producers said Tuesday, some 18 months after it was halted by the fatal on-set shooting of the movie's cinematographer.
Hollywood star Baldwin was holding a Colt .45 gun during rehearsals for the film in the southwestern state of New Mexico when it discharged, killing Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza. (Photo by Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office / AFP) / RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE - MANDATORY CREDIT "AFP PHOTO / Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office / HANDOUT " - NO MARKETING - NO ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS - DISTRIBUTED AS A SERVICE...

The decision to drop charges against Alec Baldwin came on the same day that he and other cast members resumed filming the movie in Montana. Photo: AFP

A decision by New Mexico lawyers to drop charges against Alec Baldwin in the shooting death of the cinematographer in Rust marked a logical conclusion to a flawed prosecution, legal experts say.

The move followed new evidence about the gun Baldwin was holding when it fired the bullet that killed Halyna Hutchins during the movie's filming, a person close to state prosecutors said.

The information further undermined the prosecution's case after a series of legal fumbles, pushing them to dismiss charges ahead of a 3 May hearing where a judge was to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to try Baldwin and Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.

The two special prosecutors said on Thursday they would file court papers to dismiss Baldwin's charges and continue to prosecute Gutierrez-Reed. A court hearing is set for 2.30pm on Friday.

"This very weak case against Baldwin should never have been filed in the first place," said Ambrosio Rodriguez, a former prosecutor with the Riverside County District Attorney's Office in California. "I don't see how they could ever prove their case with this new evidence."

Baldwin's attorney Luke Nikas met one of the prosecutors in Santa Fe last week to present evidence the revolver had been modified with new parts since its manufacture by Italian gunmaker F.LLI Pietta.

The information compromised the prosecution's argument the gun was in fully functioning order and could only have fired if Baldwin recklessly pulled the trigger, according to the person familiar with the case.

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies in January charged Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed with two counts of criminal involuntary manslaughter, a crime in which a person shows reckless disregard for another person's safety.

Defence attorneys proceeded to dismantle the prosecution case. They forced the state to downgrade charges in February, then triggered the resignation of a special prosecutor with a political conflict of interest and forced Carmack-Altwies to step down in March.

An underlying weakness in the case was prosecutors' inability to say how live rounds got on the movie set outside Santa Fe where Hutchins died on 21 October 2021.

"Not having an answer as to the source of the live rounds is a big flaw, because the defence would hammer that throughout the whole trial and it would play well with a jury," said Los Angeles personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio.

- Reuters

Get the RNZ app

for ad-free news and current affairs