Alec Baldwin is to be charged with involuntary manslaughter over the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the film Rust.
The film’s armourer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for weapons on set, also faces the same charge, while assistant director David Halls has signed a plea agreement for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon.
Hutchins, 42, died after a prop gun held by Baldwin, 64, was discharged during rehearsals for the western film in October 2021. Director Joel Souza was also wounded in the incident on the Bonanza Creek Ranch set in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Baldwin’s lawyer said the decision “distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice”, adding: “We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
Hutchins’ family have welcomed the charges, saying they hope the justice system works to “hold accountable those who break the law”.
“No one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice,” Santa Fe’s district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said as she made the announcement.
Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb added: “If any one of these three people – Alec Baldwin, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or David Halls – had done their job, Halyna Hutchins would be alive today. It’s that simple.”
Prosecutors had been given extra funding of $317,750 (about £282,900) to investigate the high-profile case.
The decision on charges comes about three months after they received the final report on the shooting from the Santa Fe sheriff’s office, following a lengthy investigation also involving the FBI.
“The evidence clearly shows a pattern of criminal disregard for safety on the Rust film set. In New Mexico, there is no room for film sets that don’t take our state’s commitment to gun safety and public safety seriously,” Ms Reeb said.
‘We will fight, and we will win’
In his full statement, Baldwin’s lawyer Luke Nikas said: “This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents 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. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
A lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed said: “Hannah is, and has always been, very emotional and sad about this tragic accident. But she did not commit involuntary manslaughter. These charges are the result of a very flawed investigation, and an inaccurate understanding of the full facts.
“We intend to bring the full truth to light and believe Hannah will be exonerated of wrongdoing by a jury.”
The first sign of criminal reckoning
It has taken more than a year since Halyna Hutchins’ death for these charges to be announced, but for her family and friends it represents a step towards accountability.
I have spoken to several people who worked on the film set, who made complaints at the time about what one individual described as a “total disregard” for the welfare and safety of cast and crew.
There have been a number of civil lawsuits and counter-suits filed as the blame and counter-blame game has played out. But this is the first sign of any criminal reckoning.
‘Conscious disregard for human life’
In the statement issued on behalf of Hutchins’ family, lawyer Brian J Panish said: “We want to thank the Santa Fe sheriff and the district attorney for concluding their thorough investigation and determining that charges for involuntary manslaughter are warranted for the killing of Halyna Hutchins with conscious disregard for human life.
“Our independent investigation also supports charges are warranted. It is a comfort to the family that, in New Mexico, no one is above the law. We support the charges, will fully cooperate with this prosecution, and fervently hope the justice system works to protect the public and hold accountable those who break the law.”
The announcement of criminal charges comes three months after Baldwin and the Rust production company reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount with Hutchins’ family after a wrongful death lawsuit filed by her husband Matthew, and announced that production of the film would resume this year.
A number of other lawsuits have also been filed in relation to the shooting.
What happens now?
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be “charged in the alternative” with two counts of manslaughter, meaning a jury would decide not just whether they are guilty, but under which definition of involuntary manslaughter they are guilty or not guilty.
The first charge can be referred to simply as involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors said, and for this to be proved there must be underlying negligence. Under New Mexico law, involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine (about £4,040). This charge also includes the misdemeanour charge of negligent use of a firearm.
The other charge is involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act, which requires proof that there was more than simple negligence involved. This is also a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to a $5,000 fine. However, prosecutors said the charge includes an added penalty – because a firearm was involved – which makes the crime punishable by a mandatory five years in jail.
Ms Carmack-Altwies and Ms Reeb will formally file charges before the end of January. After the filing, each defendant will be issued a summons to make a first appearance to a court, either in person or virtually.
The first appearance will be followed by a preliminary hearing in front of a judge, for the district attorney and the special prosecutor to present their case. The judge would then rule whether there is probable cause to move forward with a trial. Preliminary hearings are typically scheduled within 60 days of charges being filed.
Prosecutors said no charges will be filed in relation to Souza’s injuries.
Confirming details of Halls’ plea agreement, they said the terms include a suspended sentence and six months of probation.