Actor Alec Baldwin was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Tuesday for showing a "reckless" disregard for safety that led to the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of Western movie "Rust" in New Mexico in 2021, according to court documents.
District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies filed charges following months of speculation as to whether she had evidence that Baldwin showed criminal negligence when a revolver with which he was rehearsing fired a live round that killed Hutchins.
Baldwin and set armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were each charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter. The most serious charge - which carries a potential sentence of five years in jail - would require prosecutors to convince a jury Baldwin was not just negligent but reckless in his use of a firearm.
A lawyer for Baldwin declined to comment. Hutchins lawyer said the prosecutor had "completely misunderstood the facts and has reached the wrong conclusions."
Baldwin's case is remarkable in that there is little or no precedent for an actor to face criminal charges for an on-set death since the birth of Hollywood.
A probable cause statement accompanying the charges names Baldwin as both an actor and producer on the movie and says: "On the day of the shooting alone, evidence shows that no less than a dozen acts, or omissions of recklessness, occurred in the short time prior to lunch and the time of the shooting, and this does not include the reckless handling of the firearm by Baldwin."
The "30 Rock" actor has denied responsibility for the shooting, saying Hutchins directed him to point the gun at the camera, he cocked the revolver but never pulled the trigger. He said it was the job of Gutierrez-Reed and other weapons professionals to ensure it was unloaded, a position supported by many actors and the SAG-AFTRA union.
Prosecutors said photos and videos from inside the movie-set church prior to the shooting show Baldwin with his finger inside of the trigger guard and on the trigger while manipulating the hammer, drawing, pointing and holstering the revolver.
Industry-wide firearms safety guidelines published by SAG-AFTRA tell actors to “never place your finger on the trigger until you’re ready to shoot.”
An FBI forensic test of the revolver found it "functioned normally" and would not fire without the trigger being pulled.
Prosecutors could face long odds convincing a jury Baldwin is criminally liable because he was assured the gun was safe to handle before it fired a live round, according to legal experts.
Baldwin failed to attend firearms training sessions and on the day of the shooting did not demand at least two safety checks of the firearm between the armorer and himself, something he said was standard protocol in interviews with media and police, prosecutors said.
Gutierrez-Reed has said she checked the rounds she loaded into the gun were dummies before handing it to first assistant director Dave Halls. Halls handed it to Baldwin, telling him it was a "cold gun," meaning it did not contain an explosive charge, according to police.
Halls has signed a plea deal for a misdemeanor charge and is expected to cooperate with the prosecution.
For celebrity reputation manager Eric Schiffer, Baldwin's repeated claims of innocence smacked of celebrity elitism and may have pushed Carmack-Altwies to charge him.
“Baldwin believes he's innocent, and that guns do go off magically, and despite physics and the FBI saying different, and that has led to pressure on prosecutors from the public,” said Schiffer.
Gutierrez-Reed has repeatedly said inadequate firearms training on the low-budget movie set contributed to the shooting, a position echoed in the charging documents.
On Dec. 7 she testified to New Mexico's worker safety agency (OSHA) that Baldwin's lack of knowledge and "poor form" in using a revolver may have led to the discharge that killed Hutchins.
She said Baldwin's training was rushed, skipped safety protocols and consisted largely of firing blanks. The armorer said Baldwin was distracted by texts and FaceTime calls with family and that she was unsure he was "retaining" instruction.
"Hannah pleaded to provide more firearms training. She was denied and brushed aside," said her lawyer Jason Bowles, vowing to fight the charges.
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