Judge considers dismissing indictment against Alec Baldwin in fatal shooting of cinematographer

Alec Baldwin
FILE – Alec Baldwin attends the Roundabout Theatre Company’s annual gala at the Ziegfeld Ballroom on Monday, March 6, 2023, in New York. A New Mexico judge is considering whether to dismiss a grand jury indictment against actor Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting on the set of a Western movie, at a scheduled court hearing on Friday. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP, file)

A New Mexico judge is considering Alec Baldwin’s request to dismiss a grand jury indictment against him at a virtual court hearing Friday.

The indictment in January charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021, at a movie ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe.

Baldwin, a lead actor and co-producer on the Western “Rust,” has pleaded not guilty to the charge and his attorneys have urged dismissal. They have argued that prosecutors flouted the rules of grand jury proceedings to divert attention away from exculpatory evidence and witnesses. The involuntary manslaughter charge carries a maximum sentence of 1.5 years in prison.

During rehearsal, Baldwin was pointing a gun at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when the revolver went off, killing Hutchins and injuring Joel Souza, the director. Baldwin has maintained that he pulled back the gun’s hammer, but not the trigger.

Baldwin’s motion to dismiss the indictment also argues that the grand jury received inaccurate and one-sided testimony about the revolver involved in the fatal shooting.

Special prosecutors say they followed grand jury protocols and accuse Baldwin of “shameless” attempts to escape culpability, highlighting contradictions in his statements to law enforcement, to workplace safety regulators and in a televised interview. A jury trial is scheduled for July.

Prosecutors turned their full attention to Baldwin after a judge in April sentenced movie weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to the maximum of 1.5 years at a state penitentiary on an involuntary manslaughter conviction for Hutchins’ death.

Prosecutors last year dismissed an earlier involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin after being told the gun he was holding might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. A new analysis of the gun last year enabled prosecutors to reboot the case.

The indictment against Baldwin offers two possible standards for prosecutors to pursue. One would be based on the negligent use of a firearm. An alternative is to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Baldwin caused Hutchins’ death without “due caution” or “circumspection,” also defined as “an act committed with total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.”

Defense attorneys also say prosecutors steered the grand jury away from testimony by witnesses including the film’s director, as well as assistant director and safety coordinator Dave Halls and props master Sarah Zachry. Halls last year pleaded no contest to negligent handling of a firearm and completed a sentence of six months of unsupervised probation.

The two-week trial of Gutierrez-Reed gave attorneys for Baldwin and the public a unusual window into how the actor’s own trial could unfold.

Baldwin figured prominently in testimony and closing arguments that highlighted his authority as a co-producer and the lead actor on “Rust.” Both the prosecution and defense in Gutierrez-Reed’s trial dissected video footage of Baldwin before the fatal shooting for clues about breakdowns in firearms safety.

Prosecutors said Gutierrez-Reed unwittingly brought live ammunition onto the set of “Rust,” where it was expressly prohibited, and failed to follow basic gun safety protocols.

Gutierrez-Reed is appealing the conviction, decided by a jury in March, to a higher court but hasn’t yet filed detailed arguments. At sentencing, Gutierrez-Reed told the judge she tried to do her best on the set despite not having “proper time, resources and staffing.”

After the shooting in New Mexico, the filming of “Rust” resumed but in Montana, under an agreement with Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, which made him an executive producer. A wrongful death lawsuit in civil court by Matthew Hutchins and the Hutchins’ son was settled under undisclosed terms.

Defense attorneys say Baldwin last year was offered a deal to plead to a “minor offense” before a grand jury was convened, but the offer that was “inexplicably retracted” before the deadline to respond.