New Mexico has officially closed its criminal prosecution against Alec Baldwin, exactly 18 months after the actor fatally shot a cinematographer on the low-budget western movie, “Rust.”
A special prosecutor, who joined the case last month, on Friday submitted a one-paragraph statement to the court, saying new evidence prompted the state to dismiss involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin.
As those court papers were being processed, the 65-year-old movie star was in Montana, where filming of “Rust” resumed this week.
“Rust” producers have been determined to finish the story of Harland Rust, a fictional 1880s Kansas outlaw, played by Baldwin. They have said the movie will be a tribute to Halyna Hutchins, the 42-year-old film cinematographer who died Oct. 21, 2021.
“My every effort on this film will be devoted to honoring Halyna’s legacy and making her proud,” Joel Souza, the film’s director who was also wounded in the “Rust” shooting, said Friday in a statement.
Also on Friday, in Santa Fe, N.M., the judge overseeing the criminal case held a brief virtual hearing to regroup with special prosecutors and attorneys representing the remaining defendant in the “Rust” shooting, armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed.
In an earlier statement, special prosecutor Jason J. Lewis announced the state was dropping charges against Baldwin, at least for now, due to the undisclosed new information. On Friday, fellow special prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey requested that the judge postpone a pivotal hearing to give her team time to investigate “all of these important issues that have surfaced just within the last few days.”
Three people familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, told Los Angeles Times that prosecutors only recently learned the prop gun Baldwin was using allegedly had been modified before being delivered to the “Rust” set. Two of the knowledgeable people said the gun’s “hammer and sear” mechanisms appeared to have been altered, which may have affected the firing mechanism.
Baldwin has long maintained that he did not pull the trigger. He said he pulled back the hammer of the gun during a rehearsal for a scene that was intended to show a close-up view of the gun’s barrel.
It remains unclear why the information only recently surfaced. Santa Fe County Sheriff’s detectives spent a year on their investigation and prosecutors had the case file since late October.
A sheriff’s spokesman declined to comment Friday, referring all questions to the special prosecutors now handling the case.
An FBI ballistics expert also tested the weapon — a replica of a vintage .45 Colt single-action revolver made by weapons manufacturer Pietta. The FBI report, dated July 26, 2022, does not appear to mention significant alterations to the gun.
The report did describe problems when experts tried to simulate an accidental discharge with the gun. With the hammer in the “full cock” position, “portions of the trigger sear and cylinder stop fractured while the hammer was struck,” the report said.
Baldwin’s attorneys have long insisted the FBI report demonstrated defects with the weapon, suggesting it may have been prone to misfires.
During Friday’s court hearing, Morrissey did not provide details about the new information but said prosecutors needed at least two months to complete their investigation, which will probably include “the issuance of subpoenas” and taking witness statements.
The judge rescheduled a preliminary hearing for August.
The proposed week-long hearing is meant todetermine if there’s sufficient evidence to pursue felony involuntary manslaughter charges against Gutierrez Reed. The 25-year-old armorer, daughter of famed Hollywood gunslinger Thell Reed, was the movie’s weapons expert. She acknowledges loading Baldwin’s gun that day.
“We fully expect at the end of this process that Hannah will also be exonerated,” her attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion said in a statement this week.
Lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents the former script supervisor on “Rust” and, separately, Hutchins’s mother and sister, said her clients would press forward with their civil cases against the actor and other producers of “Rust.”
“Mr. Baldwin should know that we remain committed to … holding him accountable for pointing a loaded gun at Halyna Hutchins, pulling the trigger, and killing her,” Allred said.
The criminal prosecutions have faced numerous setbacks.
In addition, Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, agreed last fall to abandon a wrongful death suit against Baldwin and the other “Rust” producers last year. As part of the proposed settlement, Hutchins becamean executive producer on the film.
Actors union SAG-AFTRA said this week that it had “safety-cleared” the movie production to resume, after a lengthy review and the institution of safety measures.
“The additional safety requirements include that there will be no live ammunition on set and no weapons capable of firing ammunition of any kind,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement. “Union field representatives will be making regular visits to the production.”
The producers’ attorney, Melina Spadone, said filming of “Rust” in Montana should be completed by the end of May.
“The production will continue to utilize union crew members and will bar any use of working weapons and any form of ammunition,” Spadone said. “Each and every one of us is wholeheartedly dedicated to realizing Halyna’s vision and paying tribute to her artistry.”