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Alec Baldwin's 'Rust' trial to go ahead after judge denies motion to dismiss charge

Alec Baldwin in 2021.
Evan Agostini
Alec Baldwin in 2021.

A New Mexico judge has ruled that actor Alec Baldwin's indictment will stand in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of his film Rust. In an order on Friday, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer turned down a motion by Baldwin’s attorneys to dismiss the indictment.

Baldwin therefore remains scheduled to go on trial in July for involuntary manslaughter. Nearly three years ago, during a rehearsal for a scene in the Western movie on a ranch outside Santa Fe, Baldwin was holding the prop gun that had been loaded with live ammunition. The Colt .45 revolver went off, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin, who was also a producer for the film, pleaded not guilty, and has maintained he was not responsible for Hutchins' death. Shortly after the shooting, he told ABC News he had "no idea" how a live bullet got onto the set of his film, but that he "didn't pull the trigger."

In March, a jury found the film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, guilty of involuntary manslaughter and negligent use of a firearm. She's now serving an 18-month prison sentence.

The New Mexico Environment Department's Occupational Health and Safety Bureau issued a citation against Rust Movie Productions and fined them for failures that led to Hutchins' "avoidable death."

The criminal case against Alec Baldwin

The high-profile criminal case against Alec Baldwin has had many twists and turns. Baldwin was first charged in 2023, but New Mexico's case against him faced a number of setbacks: Baldwin's attorneys fought to remove special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, a member of the New Mexico House of Representatives. She stepped down from the case. So did the district attorney who brought the case, after downgrading the charges against the actor. (Baldwin initially faced charges for a minimum of five years in prison under a "firearm enhancement" statute, but his legal team noted that such a law didn't take effect in New Mexico until after the fatal Rust shooting.)

In April of 2023, the charges against Baldwin were dropped as two new special prosecutors were assigned. In October, they presented their case to a grand jury to determine whether he should be criminally charged. By January, the jury agreed to indict him.

But last week, Baldwin's attorneys Alex Spiro and Luke Nikas asked Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer to dismiss his charges. They argued that during the grand jury hearing, the state's special prosecutor unfairly stacked the deck against Baldwin, leaving out key testimony and interrupting witnesses multiple times.

"She doesn't cut off anybody saying 'I don't like Alec Baldwin,' that's for sure. It's always in one direction," said Spiro.

Spiro argued that the "overzealous" special prosecutor engaged in "bad faith" by failing to make defense witnesses available to testify, and for presenting contradictory testimony.

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey, meanwhile, was on the defensive with Judge Sommer. She denied that she had done anything nefarious before the grand jury.

"Everything he's saying to you right now is a complete misrepresentation," Morrissey said of Spiro. "I didn't hide any information from the grand jury."

She said she had planned to present several defense witnesses if the grand jurors asked for their testimony, and she denied that the testimony was contradictory.

"I want the court to understand that all I was trying to do was get the most accurate information before the grand jury," Morrissey explained. She defended the testimony of witnesses, including that of veteran movie armorer Bryan Carpenter, who spoke about industry weapons practices during the grand jury trial: "Everything that Mr. Carpenter said is absolutely accurate about the way that safety protocols on movie sets are supposed to work." She said Carpenter testified in the Gutierrez-Reed trial that the armorer is in charge of gun safety, and he testified before the grand jury "that the actor has a responsibility for the firearm once it is in his hand."

Morrissey said according to safety protocols on movie sets, "The person who's holding the gun isn't supposed to point at anyone. The person who's holding the gun is supposed to keep their finger off the trigger. The person who's pointing, who's holding the gun, is supposed to know what their intended target is. All of those are things that Mr. Baldwin failed to do. And that information was appropriately presented to the grand jury in this case."

On Friday, Judge Sommer allowed the grand jury's decision to stand.

A web of lawsuits

Since the fatal shooting in October 2021, a complex web of lawsuits has grown.

The Rust crew has filed a number of suits against each other. Serge Svetnoy, the film's gaffer, or lighting lead, sued Baldwin, Guttierez-Reed, and a number of others involved in production. Then script supervisor Mamie Mitchell sued Baldwin and other producers and crew members, too. In 2022, Baldwin filed a lawsuit against the film's first assistant director, the armorer, prop master and ammunition supplier, alleging negligence.

Halyna Hutchins' family filed a wrongful death lawsuit against him and his co-producers, alleging their cost-cutting and reckless behavior on set led to her death. As part of the settlement, Hutchins' widower Matthew was named as executive producer of the film, which resumed and finished filming last year. There is still no release date.

From their home in Ukraine, Hutchins's sister and parents also filed a civil suit against Baldwin, his co-producers and some crew members.

Copyright 2024 NPR

As an arts correspondent based at NPR West, Mandalit del Barco reports and produces stories about film, television, music, visual arts, dance and other topics. Over the years, she has also covered everything from street gangs to Hollywood, police and prisons, marijuana, immigration, race relations, natural disasters, Latino arts and urban street culture (including hip hop dance, music, and art). Every year, she covers the Oscars and the Grammy awards for NPR, as well as the Sundance Film Festival and other events. Her news reports, feature stories and photos, filed from Los Angeles and abroad, can be heard on All Things Considered, Morning Edition, Weekend Edition, Alt.latino, and npr.org.