Alec Baldwin pleads not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charge in fatal film-set shooting
Alec Baldwin pleads not guilty to involuntary manslaughter charge in fatal film-set shooting

Actor Alec Baldwin departs his home, as he will be charged with involuntary manslaughter for the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust”, in New York, U.S., January 31, 2023.

David Dee Delgado | Reuters

Actor Alec Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer during a rehearsal on a Western movie set in New Mexico.

Court documents filed Wednesday show Baldwin entered the plea in state district court in Santa Fe, waiving an arraignment that had been scheduled to take place remotely by video conference the next day.

Baldwin, the lead actor and a co-producer on the Western movie “Rust,” was pointing a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal outside Santa Fe in October 2021 when the gun went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.

A grand jury in Santa Fe indicted Baldwin in January after prosecutors received a new analysis of that gun, renewing a charge that prosecutors originally filed and then dismissed in April 2023. Baldwin faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

Baldwin remains free pending trial under conditions that include not possessing firearms, consuming alcohol or leaving the country. Baldwin can have limited contact with witnesses when it comes to promoting “Rust,” which has not been released for public viewing. Baldwin is prohibited from asking members of the “Rust” cast or crew to participate in a related documentary film.

Baldwin has said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired.

“Halyna and I had something profound in common, and that is that we both assumed the gun was empty … other than those dummy rounds,” Baldwin told George Stephanopoulos in an interview broadcast in December 2021 on ABC News.

The grand jury indictment provides special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis with two alternative standards for pursuing the felony charge against Baldwin.

One would be based on the negligent use of a firearm. A second alternative for prosecutors is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin caused the death of Hutchins without due caution or “circumspection,” also defined as “an act committed with total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.”

An analysis of the gun conducted by Lucien and Michael Haag of Forensic Science Services in Arizona concluded that “the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver.”

An earlier FBI report on the agency’s analysis of the revolver found that, as is common with firearms of that design, it could go off without pulling the trigger if force was applied to an uncocked hammer, such as by dropping the weapon. The gun eventually broke during testing.

Morrissey and Lewis dismissed the earlier charge after they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned.

The grand jury heard from a “Rust” crew member who was a few feet (meters) from the fatal shooting and another who walked off the set before the shooting in protest of working conditions. Weapons forensics expert Michael Haag, a Mississippi-based movie armorer and a detective with the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office also testified.

“Rust” weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed also has been charged with involuntary manslaughter, with a jury trial scheduled to start Feb. 22. She has pleaded not guilty to that charge and a second charge of tampering with evidence in Hutchins’ death.

Gutierrez-Reed also was charged with carrying a gun into a downtown Santa Fe bar days before she was hired to work as the armorer on “Rust.” She has pleaded not guilty to that charge, too.

The fatal shooting of Hutchins resulted in a series of civil lawsuits, including wrongful death claims filed by members of Hutchins’ family, centered on accusations that Baldwin and producers of “Rust” were lax with safety standards. Baldwin and other defendants have disputed those allegations.

“Rust” assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls pleaded no contest to unsafe handling of a firearm last March and received a suspended sentence of six months of probation. He agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the fatal shooting.

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