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Alec Baldwin could again face charges in "Rust" shooting as new gun analysis says "trigger had to be pulled"

A new forensics report on the gun that discharged on the set of the film "Rust" in New Mexico in 2021, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza, alleges that Alec Baldwin pulled the trigger. The findings, which come from an analysis of the revolver Baldwin was using to rehearse a scene when it fired, are inconsistent with the actor's account of what happened.

The results of the analysis suggest that charges could be refiled against Baldwin after they were dropped earlier this year, with New Mexico prosecutors saying at the time they had received new information about the incident warranting an additional forensic examination of the weapon. 

The decision to dismiss two charges of involuntary manslaughter and seek another evaluation of the gun was prompted by information suggesting the prop may have been modified without Baldwin's knowledge and may have malfunctioned when it discharged, according to recent court filings. 

The report, dated Aug. 2, was prepared by firearms expert Lucian Haag and forensics consultant Michael Haag for Santa Fe County special prosecutors Kari T. Morrissey and Jason J. Lewis, court filings show. The report appears in a motion filed Tuesday by attorneys for "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who is still facing an involuntary manslaughter charge in connection with the fatal shooting. She has pleaded not guilty in the case, which is scheduled to go to trial this December.

An aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch that was used for the Western film "Rust" in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 23, 2021.
An aerial photo shows the Bonanza Creek Ranch that was used for the Western film "Rust" in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 23, 2021. AP Photo/Jae C. Hong

Baldwin initially faced two counts of the same charge, but they were dropped earlier this year by the New Mexico special prosecutors in April. 

Shortly before a preliminary hearing was set to take place, the prosecutors said, "New facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis." In a statement, Morrissey and Lewis noted that the charges against Baldwin would be dismissed while the investigation and analysis were underway.

"This decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled," the statement read.

Baldwin pleaded not guilty to the original charges. He insisted that he never pulled the trigger, and both the actor and his attorneys have said that he is not responsible for the shooting. They claim Baldwin believed, after being told, that the prop gun was safe to handle. His attorneys have also maintained that Baldwin was unaware that the prop gun, a .45 Colt revolver, contained live ammunition.

"Someone is responsible for what happened, and I can't say who that is, but I know it's not me," Baldwin, who is also on of the film's producers, said in a televised interview about the shooting in 2021. He later filed a lawsuit against Gutierrez-Reed and several other crew members involved in the film, accusing them of negligence for allowing him to use a loaded gun on set without his knowledge.

The new forensics report includes images and detailed descriptions of the gun and cartridges, as well as still images of Baldwin handling a revolver on the "Rust" set at some point during filming. Written observations of those still images note how the actor's finger appears to be on or near the trigger as he is cocking the gun.

"Although Alec Baldwin repeatedly denies pulling the trigger, given the tests, findings and observations reported here, the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver," Lucien Haag wrote in the report, which suggests that roughly 2 pounds of force on the trigger is necessary in order for the gun to discharge. 

Haag said "the only conceivable alternative" to the trigger being pulled "would be a situation in which the trigger was already pulled or held rearward while retracting the hammer to its full cock position."

"Although unlikely and totally contrary to the normal operation of these single action revolvers, such improper handling, would result in the discharge of a live cartridge," he continued.

Haag did not say whether the gun had been modified, although parts of it were replaced to conduct the examination after previously being broken during an exam by the FBI, which similarly found through its own forensic testing that the gun could not fire without the trigger being pressed, according to the probable cause statement that accompanied Baldwin's previous charges.

"From an examination of the fired cartridge case and the operationally restored evidence revolver, this fatal incident was the consequence of the hammer being manually retracted to its fully rearward and cocked position followed, at some point, by the pull or rearward depression of the trigger," Haag wrote. 

CBS News contacted Baldwin's attorney but did not receive an immediate response.

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