Will Alec Baldwin Face Criminal Charges for ‘Rust’ Shooting? New Mexico Decides!

A judge from New Mexico is considering whether to drop the involuntary manslaughter charges against Alec Baldwin related to the fatal shooting on the set of the film “Rust” in 2021.

During a court hearing on Friday, Baldwin’s legal team claimed that the special prosecutor, Kari T. Morrissey, had misused her authority by allegedly concealing “critical evidence.” This includes witnesses that could support Baldwin’s case, which were supposedly not included in the grand jury proceedings in January.

Baldwin’s lawyers argued that he was targeted by an excessively zealous prosecutor who manipulated the grand jury process to secure an indictment in this high-profile case. The issue at hand is whether the grand jury was fully informed that they could call on witnesses supporting Baldwin during the proceedings. The grand jury spent a day and a half interrogating witnesses presented by the prosecution.

Baldwin’s lawyer, Alex Spiro, claimed to the judge on Friday that “the fix was in.”

The grand jury leveled an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin for the shooting of Halyna Hutchins, a 42-year-old cinematographer, during a rehearsal on October 21, 2021. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty.

At the end of Friday’s hearing, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer of the New Mexico First Judicial District stated that she would deliver her ruling the following week. If she opts to dismiss the case, it would be the second time that the felony charges against Baldwin have been dropped.

Marlowe Sommer is expected to make her decision less than two months before Baldwin is due to stand trial in a Santa Fe courtroom.

During the virtual hearing, Morrissey denied acting in bad faith. She argued that she did not hinder the jurors from asking questions or seeking further information. She also stated that the jurors had been given written instructions outlining their ability to question other witnesses, including those supporting the defense.

However, since the jurors did not request to hear from the witnesses provided by Baldwin’s legal team, several key figures in the incident, including film director Joel Souza, property master Sarah Zachry, and assistant director David Halls, were not called to testify. Instead, the jurors heard from police officers, a crew member who was present in the church, and expert witnesses brought in by the prosecutors.

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On the day of the shooting, Hutchins, Baldwin, Souza, and around a dozen other crew members were gathered in an old wooden church at Bonanza Creek Ranch, south of Santa Fe, preparing for a scene. According to Baldwin, Hutchins instructed him to remove his Colt .45 revolver from its holster and aim it at the camera for an extreme close-up shot. That’s when the gun fired.

Hutchins succumbed to her injuries, while Souza was injured but survived.

In the previous month, Marlowe Sommer sentenced Hannah Gutierrez, the film’s armorer, to 18 months in a New Mexico women’s prison for her part in the shooting. Morrissey contended that Gutierrez was criminally negligent for allegedly bringing live ammunition to the film set and unintentionally loading one of the live rounds into Baldwin’s gun. Gutierrez denies bringing the ammunition on set.

Baldwin’s prosecution has been fraught with difficulty.

Morrissey and her law partner Jason J. Lewis took up the case last year after the initial team of prosecutors had to withdraw due to errors, including an attempt to charge Baldwin with a penalty enhancement that was not applicable at the time of the incident.

“The government seemed rather inexperienced and unprofessional when they charged him for a crime that wasn’t a crime at the time,” commented Los Angeles litigator Tre Lovell, who is not involved in the “Rust” shooting case. “That was embarrassing.”

The original prosecutors also made grandiose claims during media interviews, asserting that Baldwin needed to be held accountable for his actions. Defense attorneys have argued that such commentary was inappropriate and biased against the actor.

Soon after Morrissey and Lewis took over the case, they dropped the charges against Baldwin. They explained that they required more time to review the evidence and address the issues raised by Baldwin’s team. Morrissey and Lewis retained the right to refile the charges.

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Immediately after the charges were dropped, Baldwin went to Montana to complete the filming of “Rust.”

On Friday, Morrissey claimed that the decision to drop the charges last year was made at the request of Baldwin’s lead lawyer, Luke Nikas, who had presented evidence that the gun Baldwin was using had been tampered with. Subsequent tests confirmed that the gun was operational on the day of the shooting, but during FBI testing in 2022, the gun was damaged by forensic analysts who were trying to determine how much pressure was required for the hammer to fall.

The damaged gun is one of several challenges that the prosecutors are facing. Legal experts have suggested that securing a conviction in Baldwin’s case will likely be more challenging than in Gutierrez’s case, whose responsibility it was to ensure the safety of the weapons.

Baldwin was given the prop gun that day and was told it was “cold,” meaning it was unloaded. In reality, the revolver’s chamber held six rounds — five dummy rounds and the lead bullet that resulted in Hutchins’ death.

Nikas argued in the motion to dismiss the charges that “the state has not even alleged that Baldwin had a subjective awareness of a substantial risk that the firearm contained live ammunition.” He continued, “Without a subjective awareness, he could not have committed the crime of involuntary manslaughter, which requires that the defendant consciously disregarded a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his actions could cause another person’s death.”

With support from the Screen Actors Guild-American Federation of Television and Radio Artists (SAG-AFTRA), Baldwin has maintained that it wasn’t his responsibility to ensure gun safety on set.

The actor has argued that he was relying on other professionals to perform their duties and guarantee a safe production.

Baldwin’s lawyers stated that prosecutors are obligated to present evidence in a “fair and impartial manner.”

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The judge questioned Morrissey about her actions, including an instance when she interrupted a sheriff’s deputy and prevented her from answering a question about gun safety measures on set. Morrissey explained that the deputy was not an expert in film set protocols and that she wanted the jurors to receive “the most accurate information,” which would come from a seasoned film crew member who was an expert witness.

Baldwin’s lawyers also criticized Morrissey for revealing the date of the grand jury meeting during a media interview. Morrissey admitted to giving a reporter the initial date, which had been set for mid-November. However, the proceedings were postponed, and the case wasn’t presented to the grand jury until two months later, in mid-January.

Lovell, the entertainment attorney from Los Angeles, believes that the case will go to trial and that attempts to dismiss the indictment will fail.

“Courts are usually unwilling to dismiss cases brought by a grand jury,” Lovell said. “Courts have limited ability to review what goes to a grand jury unless it was provided in bad faith.”

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