SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Prosecutors on Friday formally dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Alec Baldwin in the fatal 2021 shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the Western film “Rust, ” citing new evidence and the need for more time to investigate.
In a stunning turnaround for the 65-year-old A-list actor, special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis filed the notice to dismiss the only remaining criminal allegation against Baldwin in state District Court in Santa Fe. Prosecutors say the investigation of the shooting that killed Halyna Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza is ongoing.
An involuntary manslaughter charge against Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the weapons supervisor on the film, is unchanged.
Friday’s court filing echoed early statements from prosecutors that new facts had been revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis.
On Thursday, after Baldwin’s attorneys announced the decision, the special prosecutors said the “decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled.” They have declined further comment and only vaguely addressed the matter during a virtual status conference Friday in Gutierrez-Reed’s case.
Los Angeles-based entertainment litigator and defense attorney Kate Mangels, who is not involved in the “Rust” case, said opportunities for further charges against Baldwin are narrowing.
“If they don’t have the evidence now, I don’t see what evidence they could obtain or that could develop. …It looks like they already had 30 people on a witness list, a cooperative (codefendant) witness, investigations done by various law enforcement agencies. It seems like this has already been pretty well investigated. I can’t imagine what would arise to bring new charges.”
Authorities have not determined how live ammunition found its way into the .45-caliber revolver made by an Italian company that specializes in 19th century reproductions.
Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired.
An August FBI report on the agency’s analysis of the gun found that, as is common with firearms of that design, it could go off without pulling the trigger if force was applied to an uncocked hammer — such as by dropping the weapon.
The only way the testers could get it to fire was by striking the gun with a mallet while the hammer was down and resting on the cartridge, or by pulling the trigger while it was fully cocked. The gun eventually broke during the testing.
After reading the FBI report, retired Seattle police Detective Donald Ledbetter said it was unlikely the gun would have gone off without the trigger being pulled.
In March, “Rust” safety coordinator and assistant director David Halls pleaded no contest to a conviction for unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months of probation. He agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the fatal shooting.
A defense attorney for Halls said Friday that he is happy for Baldwin and also wishes the best for the Hutchins family.
“Mr. Halls never believed Mr. Baldwin should be charged with a crime. It was a tragic accident that is best resolved out of criminal court,” defense attorney Lisa Torraco said in an email.
When the manslaughter charges were announced in January, Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said the case was about equal justice under the law and accountability in Hutchins’ death, regardless of the fame or fortune of those involved. She said the Ukrainian-born cinematographer’s death was tragic — and preventable.
A new legal team took over prosecution of Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed in late March, after the original special prosecutor appointed in the case resigned.
When word of the dismissal came, Baldwin was at Yellowstone Film Ranch on the set of a rebooted “Rust” production, a representative for Rust Movie Productions said. Preparations for filming were underway at the film’s new location in Montana, 18 months after the shooting shut it down.
Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys said they fully expect her to be exonerated in the judicial process. A preliminary hearing scheduled in May was pushed back to August on Friday after prosecutors said they need more time.
“The truth about what happened will come out and the questions that we have long sought answers for will be answered,” the lawyers, Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion, said in a statement.
Before Friday’s dismissal, the case against Baldwin had already been diminishing. In February, a weapons enhancement to the manslaughter charge was dropped, reducing the maximum prison sentence from five years to 18 months.
Baldwin’s 40-year career has included the early blockbuster “The Hunt for Red October” and a starring role in the sitcom “30 Rock,” as well as iconic appearances in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and a film adaptation of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In recent years, he was known for his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live.”
Baldwin has worked little as an actor since the shooting but hardly went into hiding. He stayed active on social media, making Instagram videos, posting podcast interviews and pictures of his wife and seven children. He and his wife posted pictures on their Instagram accounts Thursday embracing each other.
Plans to resume filming were outlined last year by the cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, in a proposed settlement to a wrongful death lawsuit that would make him an executive producer. Souza has said he will return to directing “Rust” to honor the legacy of Halyna Hutchins.
Gloria Allred, attorney for other Hutchins relatives who filed their own lawsuit, and for “Rust” script supervisor Mamie Mitchell, who witnessed the shooting and filed the first suit over it, said Friday that her clients will press forward with their civil litigation against Baldwin, regardless of what happens with the criminal charges.
“Mr. Baldwin should know that we remain committed to fighting and winning for our clients and holding him accountable for pointing a loaded gun at Halyna Hutchins, pulling the trigger, and killing her,” Allred said in a statement.
This story has been updated to correct that the August FBI report did find a scenario in which the gun could have gone off without the trigger being pulled, and to correct the spelling of Morrissey.
Dalton reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and Eugene Johnson in Seattle contributed.