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Alec Baldwin faces involuntary manslaughter charge over fatal "Rust" shooting

Screen Actors Guild defends Alec Baldwin
Screen Actors Guild defends Alec Baldwin after "Rust" charges announced 02:09

Actor and producer Alec Baldwin is being charged with involuntary manslaughter in the deadly 2021 shooting on the set of the Western film "Rust," prosecutors in New Mexico announced Thursday. The armorer who oversaw firearms on the set, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, is also being charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Baldwin was holding a gun during a rehearsal when it discharged, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

"After a thorough review of the evidence and the laws of the state of New Mexico, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin and other members of the 'Rust' film crew," District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in a statement released Thursday morning. "On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice."

Hutchins was wounded by a gunshot during setup for a scene at the ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin was pointing a pistol at Hutchins when the gun went off, killing her and wounding the director, Joel Souza.

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are each being charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to a year and a half in jail and a $5,000 fine. The charges also include a provision that could result in a mandatory five years in prison because the offense was committed with a gun.

Both counts stem from the shooting of Hutchins, Carmack-Altwies said. Involuntary manslaughter can involve a killing that happens while a defendant is doing something that is lawful but dangerous and is acting negligently or without caution. No charges are being filed in the shooting of Souza.

CBS News legal contributor Jessica Levinson, a professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles, said it's important to understand Hutchins' death wasn't intentional.

"We're talking about a potentially lawful act that you engage in but you were criminally negligent," Levinson said. "So, for instance, if you go shooting with friends and you are not holding a gun properly and you're not taking due care and you should have known that something dangerous could have happened and you accidentally kill a friend, you can be charged with this, involuntary manslaughter."

Alec Baldwin charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in fatal "Rust" shooting 12:46

Carmack-Altwies said charges will be filed by the end of January, and that Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed will be issued a summons to appear in court. She said prosecutors will forgo a grand jury and rely on a judge to determine if there is probable cause to move toward trial.

Levinson said that hearing will be a "very important" part of a lengthy process. She also noted it was possible the judge could toss one of the charges.

"Facing these charges is serious," Levinson said. "It will be more serious … if we pass that initial threshold where a judge says, yes, either one or both of these involuntary manslaughter charges go forward."

Carmack-Altwies said courts typically schedule such hearings within 60 days of charges being filed.

Baldwin's attorney Luke Nikas called the charges "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," Nikas said. "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."

Gutierrez-Reed's attorneys said she didn't commit involuntary manslaughter and called the shooting a "tragic accident."

"These charges are the result of a very flawed investigation, and an inaccurate understanding of the full facts," Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion said in a statement. "We intend to bring the full truth to light and believe Hannah will be exonerated of wrongdoing by a jury."

In addition to the charges, Carmack-Altwies announced a plea agreement with assistant director David Halls for a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon. Under the agreement, Halls will serve a suspended sentence and six months of probation.

"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," Andrea Reeb, the special prosecutor appointed to the case, said in a statement. "It's that simple."

Levinson noted it was possible the case may not go to a jury. "At every step along the way … if there is a plea deal on the table, Alec Baldwin can consider a plea deal," she said.    

A representative for Hutchins' family — widower Matthew Hutchins and son Andros — thanked authorities for pursuing the charges.

"It is a comfort to the family that, in New Mexico, no one is above the law," spokesman Brian Panish said in a statement. "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."

Sundance Film Festival Kickoff Party
Filmmaker Halyna Hutchins at the 2018 Sundance Film Festival. Mat Hayward/Getty Images

The family settled a lawsuit against producers under an agreement that aims to restart filming with Matthew's involvement as executive producer.

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza, who led the initial investigation into Hutchins' death, described "a degree of neglect" on the film set. But he left decisions about potential criminal charges to prosecutors after delivering the results of a yearlong investigation in October. That report didn't specify how live ammunition wound up on the film set.

Taking control of the investigation, Carmack-Altwies was granted an emergency $300,000 request for the state to pay for a special prosecutor, special investigator and other experts and personnel.

Baldwin — known for his roles in "30 Rock" and "The Hunt for Red October" and his impression of former President Donald Trump on "Saturday Night Live" — has described the killing of Hutchins as a "tragic accident."

He has sought to clear his name by suing people involved in handling and supplying the loaded gun that was handed to him on set. Baldwin, also a co-producer on "Rust," said he was told the gun was safe.

In his lawsuit, Baldwin said that while working on camera angles with Hutchins during rehearsal for a scene, he pointed the gun in her direction and pulled back and released the hammer of the gun, which discharged.

New Mexico's Office of the Medical Investigator determined the shooting was an accident following the completion of an autopsy and a review of law enforcement reports.

New Mexico's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau has levied the maximum fine against Rust Movie Productions, based on a scathing narrative of safety failures, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires of blank ammunition on set prior to the fatal shooting.

Rust Movie Productions continues to challenge the basis of a $137,000 fine by regulators who say production managers on the set failed to follow standard industry protocols for firearms safety.

The armorer, Gutierrez Reed, has been the subject of much of the scrutiny in the case, along with an independent ammunition supplier. An attorney for Gutierrez Reed has said the armorer didn't put a live round in the gun that killed Hutchins, and believes she was the victim of sabotage. Authorities said they've found no evidence of that.

Investigators initially found 500 rounds of ammunition at the movie set on the outskirts of Santa Fe — a mix of blanks, dummy rounds and what appeared to be live rounds. Industry experts have said live rounds should never be on set.

In April 2022, the Santa Fe Sheriff's Department released a trove of files including lapel camera video of the mortally wounded Hutchins slipping in and out of consciousness as an evacuation helicopter arrived. Witness interrogations, email threads, text conversations, inventories of ammunition and hundreds of photographs rounded out that collection of evidence.

State workplace safety regulators said that immediate gun-safety concerns were addressed when "Rust" ceased filming, and that a return to filming in New Mexico would be accompanied by new safety inspections.

"Rust" was beset by disputes from the start in early October 2021. Seven crew members walked off the set just hours before the fatal shooting amid discord over working conditions.

Hutchins' death has influenced negotiations over safety provisions in film crew union contracts with Hollywood producers and spurred other filmmakers to choose computer-generated imagery of gunfire rather than real weapons with blank ammunition to minimize risks.

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