The legal nightmare continues for Alec Baldwin: The keys to the new trial

The actor has pleaded not guilty for the second time to the death of Halyna Hutchins in an accidental shooting during the filming of ‘Rust’, in October 2021

Alec Baldwin
Alec Baldwin in New York in December 2022.ANDREW KELLY (REUTERS)
Luis Pablo Beauregard

It has been a busy few days for Alec Baldwin. The actor launched the fourth season of his podcast, Here’s the thing; visited Montauk Beach on New York’s Atlantic coast; set up an autograph-signing tour at a comic book convention in Atlanta; and attended a classical music concert in Manhattan. The evening’s program included Stravinsky’s The Firebird and works by Elgar known as the Enigma Variations. But the most intense moment occurred on January 19, when the actor was accused of involuntary manslaughter by a grand jury in Santa Fe (New Mexico) in a case that was considered closed: the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in an accidental shooting on the set of the western Rust, in October 2021.

Act one of the trial took place on Wednesday, when the actor pleaded not guilty to the crime. In this way, Baldwin is taking the initiative in the case, as he had been scheduled to appear in court on Thursday. Baldwin could receive up to 18 months in state prison if convicted.

Baldwin’s nightmare continues,” says Miguel Custodio, a Los Angeles-based accidental death attorney. The 65-year-old actor was charged with involuntary manslaughter by the same special prosecutors who previously dropped a similar charge against him in April 2023. If found guilty, he could be sentenced to 18 months in prison. “It’s one of the unfortunate things about the U.S. criminal system,” Custodio explains. “Prosecutors can keep charging the person almost until the person dies. After a certain amount of time, the suspect should be able to live his or her life in peace.”

That is precisely what Baldwin had intended to do more than two years after the tragedy. The 30 Rock and The Departed star gave up his low profile after the accident in which the film’s cinematographer was killed and the director, Joel Souza, was shot and wounded. Baldwin then went to the media to say that he had not pulled the trigger of the revolver and that he had only cocked the Colt revolver he was wielding during the rehearsal of a scene. In October 2022, he signed a legal agreement with Matthew Hutchins, Halyna’s widower, and the couple’s only son, 10, for compensation from part of the film’s proceeds; Rust finished shooting last May in Montana and still does not have a release date.

Alec Baldwin on the set of 'Rust'.
Alec Baldwin on the set of 'Rust'.- (AFP)

Baldwin and his lawyers thought they had put the worst behind them. However, the story changed with a new analysis of the gun by Arizona forensic experts that reached Santa Fe special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis. The conclusion confirmed the opinion of the FBI experts: a model like the one used cannot be fired without pulling or depressing the trigger enough to release the hammer completely. Therefore, the trigger must have been released. “It will be very difficult to convince the jury that the trigger was released on its own,” says Custodio, adding that celebrities usually make a favorable impression on jurors. “He is famous enough to be declared innocent.”

Using the ballistics report and testimony from witnesses, prosecutors secured a grand jury indictment in a closed-door session. The procedure included witness testimony by a member of the production team who saw the shooting and another who left the set a day before due to failures in the safety protocols. The prosecution believes that Baldwin could have caused Hutchins’ death for two reasons: either by negligence or “total disregard or indifference” for safety.

“We look forward to seeing you in court,” Baldwin’s defense responded. The defiant message suggests that the actor will opt to defend himself in court and not plead guilty before Judge Glenn Ellington in the criminal case.

Technician Serge Svetnoy takes a selfie with Halyna Hutchins during the filming of Rust.
Technician Serge Svetnoy takes a selfie with Halyna Hutchins during the filming of Rust.HANDOUT (AFP)

“Mr. Baldwin is entitled to a fair and speedy disposition of the charges to minimize public vilification and suspicion and to avoid the hazards of proving his innocence that often arise after lengthy delays in a prosecution,” Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro, the actor’s attorneys, wrote this week in a brief to the court. In the document, the lawyers reserved the right to question the prosecution’s witnesses during any part of the trial.

Baldwin must also face celebrated Los Angeles lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents Halyna Hutchins’ Ukrainian parents, Olga Solovey and Anatoli Androsovych. “In the court of public opinion, there is no statute of limitations,” according to one of the media-savvy lawyer’s famous phrases. Allred was a central player in the downfall of powerful Hollywood men like Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein. In this case, Allred says, her clients are seeking to get “at what truly happened on October 21, 2021, when Halyna Hutchins died.”

That search for the truth will have to be diverted to another courtroom. On February 21, the trial against Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, Rust’s armory manager, begins. It was Gutierrez-Reed’s first time handling this responsibility on set. She has pleaded not guilty to the charge of involuntary manslaughter. The 25-year-old loaded the gun that Rust’s leading man was using when the incident occurred.

The Gutierrez-Reed trial is important because it may yield useful information for the special prosecutors. In particular, it could shed light on the case’s major unanswered question even after two-plus years: how did a real bullet get on set? The New Mexico government fined the production $100,000 after an investigation that revealed several lapses in safety protocols.

Jason Bowles, the armorer’s attorney, has attempted to derail the process. He claims that a mistake by the prosecution put communications between his client and himself into the hands of a critical witness. “It’s a blatant violation of privilege between a defendant and her defense,” Bowles asserted at a recent hearing. According to the lawyer, Seth Kenney, the supplier of the ammunition used by the production, obtained a copy of the messages exchanged between Gutierrez-Reed and her counsel. “During the trial, we will argue how those bullets got on the set, and now Kenney has our entire strategy,” Bowles said. Kenney has always held Gutierrez-Reed responsible for having real bullets on the set. But the gun was in Alec Baldwin’s hands.

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