Crime & Justice

Fatal “Rust” shooting 2 years later: The law’s shadow hangs over Alec Baldwin’s head

Guillermo Azabal

Los Angeles, United States, Oct 20 (EFE).- As Alec Baldwin rehearsed a scene for the movie “Rust” in the middle of a desert in New Mexico, United States, no one had any idea that one of the worst tragedies in the movie industry could happen.

It was Oct. 21, 2021, and the actor was practicing inside a set designed to resemble a 19th-century church with a prop revolver that was mysteriously loaded with a real bullet.

Then the gun suddenly discharged, fatally striking the film’s director of photograph, Halyna Hutchins, in the chest and wounding director Joel Souza in the shoulder.

US authorities are still trying to determine, among other things, where the ammunition in the prop gun came from and Baldwin’s responsibility. The actor could face between 18 and 72 months in prison.

Baldwin was the star and a producer of the film, but has repeatedly denied responsibility for the incident, claiming that it was not his role to check the bullets and that he never pulled the trigger, but that the gun went off after he pulled and released the hammer.

New Mexico prosecutors charged him with involuntary manslaughter in January for committing “extremely reckless acts,” but the charges were formally dropped in April after an intense fight by his attorneys, who suggested that the officers acted conditioned by the defendant’s “high profile.”

Just as the case appeared to give Baldwin some breathing room, New Mexico’s 1st Judicial District appointed new prosecutors and announced this week that a grand jury will consider whether to refile the charges against the actor after receiving new evidence.

“Prosecutors don’t usually announce that they’re going to the grand jury unless they go in with the preconceived notion that they’re seeking an indictment. So there is a good chance that he will be indicted again. Also, because only a simple majority of the members is needed and the defense is not allowed to intervene,” Neama Rahmani, president and co-founder of West Coast Trial Lawyers, told EFE.

The new evidence could presumably go in two directions: prove that the revolver could not have been fired without pulling the trigger, as supported by an FBI forensic report released last year; or prove with certainty that the security measures were not adequate for the production.

“Forensic experts have concluded that the gun could not have fired itself unless a person pulled the trigger, which means he was lying or didn’t realize he pulled it. Baldwin would probably be better off if he had acknowledged this in the first place,” Chris Slobogin, a criminal law expert at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee, told EFE.

Poor security, long filming, alcohol and marijuana

In fact, hours before filming began on the day of the tragedy, as many as six crew members walked off the set in a standoff because, they said, the minimum standards for filming scenes with weapons were not being met and the hours were “too long.”

In addition, the New Mexico Office of Occupational Safety and Health filed a complaint months after the incident, stating that the managers, including Baldwin as producer, “demonstrated a blatant disregard” for employee safety and fined them $100,000.

The armorer and head of safety protocol during the filming of “Rust,” Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, is currently charged with involuntary manslaughter for failing to check for live ammunition on the set.

Prosecutors have hypothesized that the oversight may have occurred because Gutierrez-Reed was “probably hungover.”

Prosecutors said during the trial, after taking testimony from various members of the film crew, that she drank heavily and smoked marijuana at night during filming.

First assistant director David Hall, who was in charge of passing the gun to Baldwin at the cry of “cold gun” (meaning no live ammunition), reached a plea deal on a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon and avoided jail time.

Settlement with Hutchins’ family

The immediate family of Halyna Hutchins filed a lawsuit in February 2022 against the “Rust” production crew, including Alec Baldwin, for negligence and failure to meet safety standards, but to the surprise of many, announced 8 months later that they had signed an agreement to drop the lawsuit.

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