Alec Baldwin is once again facing a criminal charge in the fatal shooting of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
On Friday, a New Mexico grand jury indicted the Academy Award-nominated actor, 65, on a charge of involuntary manslaughter stemming from the accidental October 2021 shooting. Baldwin was rehearsing a scene with a Colt .45 on the Bonanza Creek Ranch set in Santa Fe County when the gun went off as he practiced a "cross-draw." Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was injured.
The new indictment comes one year after Baldwin — who has denied any wrongdoing — was previously charged in the case with two counts of felony involuntary manslaughter. Those charges were initially downgraded and then dropped altogether. New special prosecutors were put in place, additional testing was done on the gun and these charges followed months later.
What is this case about?
On Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin was rehearsing a scene for the indie Western film in a church set. He practiced how he would maneuver a vintage prop gun, and while pulling back the hammer — but not the trigger, he has maintained — the gun fired. There should not have been live ammunition in the gun, but it contained a real bullet and the projectile went through Hutchins and then struck Souza. Hutchins was airlifted to a local hospital, where she died from her injuries.
Three people have been the focus of the criminal case by the office of New Mexico's First Judicial District Attorney: Baldwin, armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed and first assistant director David Halls. In January 2023, Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed — who prosecutors claim loaded the live bullet into the revolver — were charged with two counts each of felony involuntary manslaughter. Halls — who took the gun from Gutierrez-Reed and handed it to Baldwin, declaring it "cold" to suggest there was no live ammunition in it — pleaded no contest in a plea deal with prosecution.
After one of the involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin was downgraded in February 2023, Baldwin had another legal win when the special prosecutor assigned to the case, Andrea Reeb, resigned in March. Two new special prosecutors, Kari T. Morrissey and Jason J. Lewis, took over the case and the charges against Baldwin were dropped, though they reserved the right to recharge him. The gun — previously analyzed by the FBI, which concluded that it could not fire without the trigger being pulled, before it broke during testing — was sent for additional forensic testing by gun expert Lucien C. Haag in the spring. Haag also determined the trigger was pulled.
In October, Morrissey and Lewis said new facts had come to light which merited charges against Baldwin. They brought the case to a grand jury, and the new charge was announced on Jan. 19. Baldwin's lawyers, Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro, said in a statement following the new charge, "We look forward to our day in court."
Meanwhile, Gutierrez-Reed's criminal case has moved forward. The armorer, who has also maintained her innocence, has subsequently been charged with tampering with evidence. Her trial, on the three charges, is set to start in February.
Why is Baldwin being charged again?
The special prosecutors reserved the right to recharge Baldwin. They conducted the new analysis on the gun — though they used replacement parts to reassemble it, as it was broken during the FBI testing. The special prosecutors brought the case to a grand jury to get an indictment instead of refiling a criminal complaint. The grand jury used testimony from seven witnesses. The indictment lists two counts on which Baldwin can be tried: involuntary manslaughter (negligent use of a firearm) or the alternative of involuntary manslaughter (without due caution or circumspection). However, he can only be tried on one of the two counts.
How much jail time does he face?
A fourth-degree felony in New Mexico carries a sentence of 18 months in prison and can include a $5,000 fine. It's assumed that, if found guilty, he would serve less. By comparison, Halls was given zero prison time for his cooperation.
What has Baldwin said about the shooting?
Baldwin has maintained his innocence, calling the death of his "friend" a terrible accident. He gave an interview to ABC News in December 2021 in which he outlined his defense, namely that he didn’t pull the trigger. "I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them, never," he said. He pointed to the mishandling of the prop by the crew, overseen by Gutierrez-Reed. "Someone put a live bullet in a gun, a bullet that wasn't even supposed to be on the property," he said.
After the new charges, Baldwin's attorneys said they "look forward to our day in court." A source close to Baldwin and his family told People it's both "stressful" and "frustrating": "It’s stressful for Hilaria. It’s frustrating for them both that Alec is being recharged. They knew there was a possibility there would be a new indictment. The back and forth is hard. It's very stressful."
As this case continues, Baldwin and his wife are selling their 10,000-square-foot home in Long Island's the Hamptons for $19 million. The actor made the unusual decision to appear in the real estate listing video amid speculation that his legal woes are draining his fortune.
What do legal experts say?
Miguel Custodio, a Los Angeles personal injury attorney and co-founder of Custodio and Dubey LLP, who is not connected to the case, tells Yahoo that "prosecutors have their work cut out for them," pointing to the second gun analysis.
"The report from forensic expert Lucien Haag is going to be problematic," he speculates. "This is the second time a comprehensive analysis was done on the gun. The defense will keep hammering home the question of how can Haag come up with concrete conclusions when he had to analyze a gun that had missing parts. This was after the FBI analyzed the gun and the DA had to withdraw the case." That said, "Haag has decades of experience, and the jury may view him as a very respectable expert. He’ll need every ounce of his expertise to overcome the doubts that will exist in the minds of jurors."
Neama Rahmani, a former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers, who is also not connected to the case, thinks the DA "botched this case in a number of ways," including waiting a year to file initial charges and then dismissing the charges against Baldwin. Also by allowing Halls — who handed the gun to Baldwin after Gutierrez-Reed allegedly loaded it — to make a plea deal to a misdemeanor charge.
Halls, who was sentenced last year, paid a $500 fine, was ordered to complete a gun-safety course within 60 days and agreed to testify in Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed’s criminal cases. "But prosecutors have taken this position, and now they're doubling down on it. Yet if you only focus on the facts of the case, the armorer is most culpable. Her job was to maintain and inspect weapons. Then next would be middleman [Halls], the assistant director, who told Baldwin it was a 'cold gun.' He's at least as responsible as Baldwin if not more."
What happens now for Baldwin and with the film?
Baldwin can formally enter a plea — with or without an arraignment, according to the Associated Press. Then a trial looms. Halls agreed to testify, and it was revealed in court docs on Friday that Rust prop master Sarah Zachry — Gutierrez-Reed’s boss — also made a deal with prosecutors in return for leniency.
In April 2023, Rust resumed production. That was after the cinematographer's husband, Matthew, and son sued the production and the case was settled. The settlement gave an executive producer credit to Hutchins’s husband. Cinematographer Bianca Cline (Marcel the Shell with Shoes On) stepped in to fill Hutchins's role in production. When filming was complete in May, after having moved to Montana to finish, Baldwin — who co-stars in the project with Travis Fimmel and Frances Fisher in addition to serving as producer — called it "nothing less than a miracle."
Will this conclude Baldwin's legal troubles tied to the shooting?
As noted, Baldwin and producers settled a case with Hutchins's husband and son. However, the actor is still being sued by Hutchins's parents, Olga Solovey and Anatolii Androsovych, as well as her sister, Svetlana Zemko. Gloria Allred, who represents them, said in a statement to Yahoo after the charges were refiled that the family continues "to seek the truth in our civil lawsuit for them and they also would like there to be accountability in the criminal justice system."
Among the other lawsuits that have stemmed from the shooting are a civil case by three crew members who allege cost-cutting endangered the cast and crew. They also claim Baldwin skipped his own safety training.