New Mexico prosecutors on Thursday said they would drop criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during filming of the Western movie “Rust” in 2021.
The decision came after new evidence surfaced on the gun Baldwin was using that fired the live round that killed Hutchins, according to a person familiar with the investigation.
The movie’s weapons handler, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, was also charged in the case and her prosecution will continue, state prosecutors said in a statement.
“New facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis,” special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis said, without giving further details. “We will therefore be dismissing the involuntary manslaughter charges against Mr. Baldwin.”
But they added: “This decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled.”
The dramatic turn in the 18-month-old case arrived on the same day that Baldwin and other cast members resumed filming the movie in Montana.
“We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident,” his lawyers Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro said in a statement.
On Instagram, Baldwin thanked his wife, Hilaria Baldwin for her support.
“I owe everything I have to this woman,” he wrote. Baldwin also gave a shoutout to Nikas, writing, “(and to you, Luke).”
Baldwin, 65, and Gutierrez-Reed, 25, were charged in January with two counts of involuntary manslaughter for the Oct. 21, 2021, shooting on a film set outside Santa Fe, New Mexico. Hutchins died, and director Joel Souza was injured, when a Colt .45 revolver Baldwin was rehearsing with fired a bullet.
In a statement on Thursday, Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyers Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion said, “We fully expect at the end of this process that Hannah will also be exonerated.”
Baldwin was accused of showing a “reckless” disregard for safety in Hutchins’ death. Prosecutors said video showed him with his finger on the trigger of the revolver minutes before it fired the live round.
Baldwin has said he was told the gun was “cold” – an industry term meaning it did not contain any ammunition with an explosive charge – and he never pulled the trigger.
Investigators have not been able to determine how live rounds made it on the set.
After an evidence viewing in the case last week, new information showed that the reproduction long Colt .45 “Peacemaker” revolver Baldwin was using had had parts added to it since its manufacture by Italian gunmaker Pietta, according to the source with knowledge of the case.
“It definitely was modified, which compromises the whole argument that the gun was in fully functioning operating form and could only have fired if Baldwin pulled the trigger,” the person said.
A status conference was scheduled for Friday at 2:30 p.m. (1630 Eastern Time) on the charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed.
The state’s prosecution has been beset by legal errors, with the most serious charge against defendants dropped in February and two prosecutors forced to step down.
The two sides had been discussing charges ahead of a May 3 hearing, when a New Mexico judge was set to decide whether Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed should stand trial.
The first assistant director, Dave Halls, was sentenced last month to a suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon. Prosecutors had said he was responsible for set safety.
Gutierrez-Reed has blamed the shooting on other factors including possible sabotage, Baldwin’s lack of training, and a failure by Halls and Baldwin to ask her for extra checks.
Baldwin settled a lawsuit in October with the cinematographer’s husband, Matt Hutchins, in a deal that made Matt Hutchins an executive producer on the movie.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay, Joseph Ax and Tyler Clifford; Additional reporting by Jasper Ward; Editing by Cynthia Osterman and Josie Kao)
— With files from Global News’ Sarah Do Couto