OPINION: This article contains commentary which reflects the author's opinion
Actor Alec Baldwin could be facing charges in the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, and the shooting injury of director Joe Souza, 48, on the set of the movie “Rust.”
Mary Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney in Santa Fe County, New Mexico said to The New York Times that criminal charges were possible.
“We haven’t ruled out anything,” she said. “Everything at this point, including criminal charges, is on the table.”
Right now the investigation is focused on what type of bullet is in the gun and who placed it there. There was a surprising number of bullets and firearms on the set.
Detectives said they have found three revolvers, casings and bullets as they investigated the set after obtaining a search warrant.
“There were an enormous amount of bullets on this set, and we need to find out what kinds they were,” she said.
And the district attorney took issue with people calling it a “prop gun” as, she said, it was not.
“It was a legit gun,” she said. “It was an antique-era appropriate gun.”
“It’s probably weeks, if not months, of follow-up investigation that we’re going to need to get to the point of charging,” she said.
“We have complex cases all the time,” she said. “But this kind of complex case, with these kinds of prominent people, no.”
Detectives from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office are proceeding carefully with the investigation, she said, citing the large number of witnesses and the need to methodically collect ballistics and forensics evidence.
The shooting occurred on Thursday on the set of a church where Mr. Baldwin was rehearsing a scene for “Rust,” a Western where he plays an outlaw. According to affidavits included in applications for search warrants, Dave Halls, an assistant director on the set, had gone outside the church and taken the gun off a cart, where it had been placed by the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed. Mr. Halls handed the gun to Mr. Baldwin, who was rehearsing inside the church, according to the affidavit, and said it was a “cold gun,” indicating that it contained no live rounds and was safe for Mr. Baldwin to handle.
Mr. Baldwin then rehearsed a scene that involved “cross drawing” a revolver and pointing it toward the camera lens, according to the affidavit, when the gun fired — striking Ms. Hutchins in the chest and killing her, and hitting the director of the film, Joel Souza, in the shoulder, wounding him.
The charges against Baldwin, who is the executive producer on the movie, could be serious and could include negligent manslaughter, legal experts said to The New York Post.
“As an executive producer, you are in a position of control and you can get prosecuted criminally,” Joseph Costa, an attorney with Costa Law in Los Angeles, said. “It’s the equivalent of drinking and driving, meaning someone may not have intended to cause great harm but they do.”
Erlinda Johnson, a former state and federal prosecutor and current criminal attorney, said he could be liable for involuntary manslaughter.
“All the state needs to demonstrate is that he was engaged in a lawful, but dangerous act and did not act with due caution,” the attorney said. “That’s what the state has to prove for involuntary manslaughter, which is a fourth-degree felony with a maximum penalty of up to 18 months in prison.”
She said Baldwin could defend himself by saying that someone else handed him the gun, “but then, well it was incumbent upon him, since he was handling the gun, to make sure there were no rounds.”
“Clearly someone didn’t do their due diligence. They should have been checking those guns to make sure there were no live rounds,” she said.
Denise Bohdan, a defense attorney from Los Angeles, said that “everyone will be sued,” which may be the least of Baldwin’s issues.
“Anyone running that set will be sued, especially when they find out who specifically was cutting corners on the set,” she said.
“Yes, Alec Baldwin was the main producer but it might be found out that another producer did more to cut corners. I don’t think there will be anything as bad as a murder charge but this is going to be a legal nightmare for Baldwin,” she said.
“The facts have yet to come out but as to potential criminal charges they will look to his possible negligence,” Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman criminal attorney Rachel Fiset said. “His problems don’t lie in what he did as an actor. It will certainly come out that he thought he was firing a blank. The real issue is his role as a producer and the safety protocols – or lack thereof – on the set. If real negligence is proven, that could result in criminal charges.”