FILE PHOTO: View of the “Rust” movie set at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico, U.S., January 20, 2023. REUTERS/Drone Base/File Photo
By Andrew Hay
TAOS, New Mexico (Reuters) – The decision by New Mexico lawyers to drop charges against Alec Baldwin in the shooting death of “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins marked a logical conclusion to a prosecution that was flawed from the start, legal experts said on Friday.
The move followed new evidence about the gun Baldwin was holding when it fired the bullet that killed Hutchins during the movie’s filming, a person close to state prosecutors said.
The information further undermined the prosecution’s case after a series of legal fumbles, pushing them to dismiss charges ahead of a May 3 hearing where a judge was to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to try Baldwin and “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.
The two special prosecutors said on Thursday they would file court papers to dismiss Baldwin’s charges and continue to prosecute Gutierrez-Reed. A court hearing is set for 2:30 pm (1630 ET) on Friday.
“This very weak case against Baldwin should never have been filed in the first place,” said Ambrosio Rodriguez, a former prosecutor with the Riverside County District Attorney’s Office in California. “I don’t see how they could ever prove their case with this new evidence.”
Baldwin’s attorney Luke Nikas met one of the prosecutors in Santa Fe last week to present evidence the revolver had been modified with new parts since its manufacture by Italian gunmaker F.LLI Pietta.
The information compromised the prosecution’s argument the gun was in fully functioning order and could only have fired if Baldwin recklessly pulled the trigger, according to the person familiar with the case.
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies in January charged Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed with two counts of criminal involuntary manslaughter, a crime in which a person shows reckless disregard for another person’s safety.
Defense attorneys proceeded to dismantle the prosecution case. They forced the state to downgrade charges in February, then triggered the resignation of a special prosecutor with a political conflict of interest and forced Carmack-Altwies to step down in March.
An underlying weakness in the case was prosecutors’ inability to say how live rounds got on the movie set outside Santa Fe where Hutchins died on Oct. 21, 2021.
“Not having an answer as to the source of the live rounds is a big flaw, because the defense would hammer that throughout the whole trial and it would play well with a jury,” said Los Angeles personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio.