Prosecutors have dropped a key charge against Alec Baldwin which would have seen him jailed for five years after shooting dead ‘Rust’ cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
The Santa Fe County District Attorney’s office has dropped a gun enhancement charge against the actor – meaning that even if he is convicted of the involuntary manslaughter charge, he may not spend any time behind bars.
A lawyer on behalf of Baldwin filed a motion excoriating prosecutors for going after the actor with a law that did not apply to him last week.
Initially, the gun enhancement charge was tacked onto his involuntary manslaughter charges, but Santa Fe DA’s office has confirmed that it was removed on Friday.
The charge requires the person who has used the gun to ‘brandish’ the weapon, meaning the gun was displayed with intent to intimidate or injure a person.
At the time of the shooting, Baldwin was on set shooting for ‘Rust’, meaning that it is unlikely that the charge meets the New Mexico law.
However, a new amendment to the law means that brandishing is no longer needed, a change that happened seven months after the fatal incident.
Santa Fe District Attorney said in a statement: ‘In order to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys, the District Attorney and the special prosecutor have removed the firearm enhancement to the involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of Halyna Hutchins on the ‘Rust’ film set.
‘The prosecution’s priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.’
The aggressive statement comes days after Baldwin’s lawyers argued about the charge, citing the change in the law in their arguments.
Baldwin and ‘Rust’ armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were both charged with involuntary manslaughter in January as prosecutors cited a ‘criminal disregard for safety.’
They have now both had the enhanced charges against them dropped, less than a month after they were brought.
In their motion filed on February 10, Baldwin’s lawyers asked Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer to throw out the enhancement violation completely.
His legal team, led by New York attorney Luke Nikas, said: ‘The prosecutors committed a basic legal error by charging Mr. Baldwin under a version of the firearm-enhancement statute that did not exist on the date of the accident.
‘That version of the statute could not apply to conduct that occurred before it was enacted.’
It comes after it was revealed that Halyna’s husband will testify in court after she was killed by a bullet in the ‘prop’ gun.
Matthew Hutchins was added to the New Mexico District Attorney’s witness list to testify at the preliminary hearing on February 24.
Prosecutors allege Baldwin pulled the trigger of the gun that killed Hutchins while Gutierrez-Reed failed to ensure it was unloaded.
The widower, who shared a nine-year-old son with Halyna, sued the Rust production team last year and was appointed executive director as a part of the settlement.
He previously expressed ‘no interest in engaging in recriminations.’
The extensive witness list includes director Joel Souza, who was wounded by the bullet that passed through Halyna, and assistant director David Halls.
Halls is accused of telling Baldwin the gun was ‘cold’ – safe – an accusation he has denied. He agreed on a plea deal with prosecutors in January which included a six-month suspended sentence and a fine.
Prop worker Seth Kenney, camera assistant Lane Luper, line producer Gabrielle Pickle and script supervisor Maime Mitchell will also likely testify.
Prosecutors note in court documents submitted in January that Baldwin was absent from an initial firearms training session.
Gutierrez-Reed set up an hour-long subsequent session for Baldwin, but they only completed 30 minutes.
‘According to Reed, Baldwin was distracted and talking on his cell phone to his family during the training,’ the prosecutors stated.
The affidavit claims Baldwin gave ‘inconsistent accounts’ about how the shooting happened – first telling police he ‘fired’ the gun, then insisting he did not pull the trigger.
Prosecutors state that ‘photos and videos clearly show Baldwin, multiple times, with his finger inside the trigger guard and on the trigger.’
They add: ‘Baldwin approached responding deputies on the day of the shooting, wanting to talk to them because he was the one who ‘fired’ the gun.’
Baldwin claimed in interviews after the shooting that he did not pull the trigger.
He believes the fault lies with the armorer, who he says should have checked the gun was safe before it was handed to him.
Yet the probable cause statement against Baldwin referred to the FBI’s previous analysis of the firearm, which ‘clearly showed that the weapon could not ‘accidentally fire.’
The document also said Baldwin failed to demand ‘at least two safety checks between the armorer and himself’ prior to the shooting.
Prosecutors said: ‘If Baldwin had not pointed the gun at Hutchins and Souza, this tragedy would not have occurred.
‘This reckless deviation from known standards and practice and protocol directly caused the fatal shooting.’