UPDATE (Jan. 31, 2023, 7:23 p.m. ET): Prosecutors on Tuesday formally charged actor Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed with involuntary manslaughter in the 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. This post has been updated throughout with details from the charging documents.
I just read through the probable cause statements against Alec Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed on charges of involuntary manslaughter. They’re very helpful to understanding New Mexico prosecutors’ theory of the case, casting both the actor/producer and the armorer as complicit in a series of reckless acts leading to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the filming of “Rust.” The narrative is compelling in its own right, as I’d expect one side’s story would be in an adversarial process.
That doesn’t answer the question, though, of how this case will end. No doubt we’ll want to see how the defense responds, though it has no obligation to do so; it’s up to the prosecution to prove its case beyond a reasonable doubt. But as the case progresses, one thing I’ll be interested in is whether we are headed for a “battle of the experts” over film set standards.
In both of the probable cause statements, the state says the defendants’ “deviation from known standards, practice and protocol directly caused” Hutchins’ death. So that could be an issue on which the defense puts forth a contrary expert, creating competing standards for a jury to sort out, which can create reasonable doubt. That is, if this goes to trial, and we’re a long way away from that possibility.
Another takeaway is that Baldwin hasn’t done himself any favors by talking to the police or the media. The probable cause statement against Baldwin accuses him of offering “very inconsistent accounts” of what happened during his “many media interviews and law enforcement interviews.” That’s not what any defense lawyer wants to hear. For example, the statement notes that Baldwin told deputies he “fired” the gun, though he later said the gun had just “gone off.” While those inconsistencies might not put Baldwin away, they could become headaches for the defense, which is why lawyers advise clients to remain silent.
And a final note, for now: Assistant director David Halls already agreed to a plea deal on a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon in Hutchins’ death. The plea agreement is not yet available, but it should emerge; I’ll note any significant details regarding the cooperation aspect of the case, which can be crucial in any prosecution.