Judge denies Alec Baldwin bid to dismiss ‘Rust’ charge

Published: May 25, 2024

A New Mexico judge rejected Alec Baldwin’s bid to dismiss an involuntary manslaughter charge for the 2021 shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, opening an unprecedented trial of a Hollywood actor for an on-set death.

Baldwin’s lawyers argued at a May 17 hearing that a grand jury indictment of the actor was “a sham” as prosecutors failed to tell jurors they could question defence witnesses and stopped them from hearing evidence helpful to the actor’s case.

Among her arguments in a court filing, district court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said she did not find prosecutorial bad faith in the grand jury, nor error in jury instructions and prosecutors adequately advised jurors regarding a letter from Baldwin’s legal team listing defence jurors they could call.

“The court finds no error in the actions taken by the prosecutor vis-a-vi the reading of the evidence letter,” Marlowe Sommer, appointed by Democratic New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson in 2010, said in the filing.

The actor now faces a July 10 trial.

Hutchins was shot with a live round after Baldwin pointed a gun at her as she set up a camera shot on a movie set near Santa Fe, New Mexico. The “30 Rock” actor maintains he did not pull the trigger, an assertion that has become central to the case.

Much of the differences between prosecution and defence positions are factual disputes, and that is the type of case juries are meant to decide, said business and entertainment trial litigator Tre Lovell.

He is among attorneys who expect Baldwin to escape conviction, arguing he was an actor and not responsible for firearms safety, a position supported by Hollywood’s SAG-AFTRA performers union.

“The real secret is educating a jury about a film set,” said Lovell.

At trial, Baldwin’s legal team must convince Santa Fe jurors there was a cascading failure in set firearms safety before the weapon was put in Baldwin’s hand,

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey has argued in court filings that Baldwin broke firearm safety rules by pointing the gun at Hutchins, cocking it and pulling the trigger.

Sommer sentenced “Rust” armourer Hannah Gutierrez to 18 months in prison in April after a Santa Fe jury found her guilty of involuntary manslaughter for loading the live round into the reproduction Colt Single Action Army revolver Baldwin was using.

Morrissey accuses Baldwin of contributing to the collapse in firearm safety protocols by being an on-set bully. At Gutierrez’s trial, she showed a video of him pointing his revolver at people, firing it when not supposed to, swearing at himself and others, and telling Gutierrez what to do.

“Rust” director Joel Souza and first assistant director Dave Halls have defended Baldwin’s on-set behaviour, characterizing it as related to the adrenaline of an “A-list” actor.

Testing of Baldwin’s revolver by the FBI and an independent firearms specialist hired by the prosecution found it would not fire without the trigger pulled.

The defence argues the hammer and trigger of the revolver were modified to make it easier to fire, allowing an accidental discharge.

Observer and attorney Rachel Fiset sees this as a risky strategy.

“What is unusual in Baldwin’s case is that the alleged malfunction was directly in line with him appearing to “intentionally” act as if he was going to shoot the gun,” adding that if the jury does not believe the modification argument, it may be devastating to Baldwin’s credibility.

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