The decision by a New Mexico prosecutor was a remarkable twist in the 15-month investigation into a tragedy that shocked Hollywood, sparked debate about safety on movie sets and altered the trajectory of a celebrity known for mocking former President Donald Trump.
New Mexico 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies charged the on-set armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, with involuntary manslaughter after reviewing an investigation by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office.
“After a thorough review of the evidence and the laws of the state of New Mexico, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin and other members of the ‘Rust’ film crew,” Ms. Carmack-Altwies said. “On my watch, no one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice.”
Hutchins died on the “Rust” movie set on Oct. 21, 2021, during rehearsal at a small church on the Bonanza Creek Ranch set.
A gun handled by Mr. Baldwin fired during the practice, killing Hutchins and sparking a long-running investigation into how a live round could have made its way onto the set and got mixed up with dummy rounds.
The film’s director, Joel Souza, was also wounded, though no charges were filed in connection with his injury.
Mr. Baldwin has maintained that the fatal shooting was a tragic accident and that he pulled the hammer back on the gun but did not pull the trigger. He blamed Ms. Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer and props assistant on the set, and assistant director Dave Halls, who handed him the .45 revolver.
The actor said he believed the gun was cold, meaning it would be safe.
Mr. Halls will accept a misdemeanor charge as part of a guilty plea. The terms include a suspended sentence and six months of probation.
He made frequent appearances on “Saturday Night Live” and lampooned Mr. Trump with an over-the-top impersonation, leading to a running feud between the men.
Donald Trump Jr. cheered the charges in a Twitter message saying “maybe Alec Baldwin will be lucky enough to share a cell with Michael Avenatti.” He was referring to the lawyer who represented adult film actress Stormy Daniels in claims against the former president, only for Mr. Avenatti to get prison time on multiple criminal convictions.
Ms. Carmack-Altwies said Mr. Baldwin, both as an actor and producer on the film, had a duty to ensure that the firearm he used on set was safe.
“Every person that handles a gun has a duty to make sure if they are going to handle that gun — point it at someone and pull the trigger – that it is not going to fire a projectile and kill someone, and this is really about justice for Halyna Hutchins,” she told CNN.
She said the involuntary manslaughter statute in New Mexico covers homicides that are unintentional.
Mr. Baldwin’s attorney, Luke Nikas, said they will be victorious in court.
“This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice,” Mr. Nikas said. “Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun – or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
Prosecutors said Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Gutierrez-Reed will each be charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter “in the affirmative,” meaning a jury will decide not only whether the defendants are guilty but also under which definition of involuntary manslaughter they are guilty.
The first charge of involuntary manslaughter requires proof of underlying negligence, and the second requires more than simple negligence. Both forms are punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Yet because a gun was involved, the second definition of involuntary manslaughter includes a “firearm enhancement” with a mandatory five years in jail.
“If any one of these three people — Alec Baldwin, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed or David Halls — had done their job, Halyna Hutchins would be alive today. It’s that simple,” said Andrea Reeb, the special prosecutor appointed to the case by Ms. Carmack-Altwies. “The evidence clearly shows a pattern of criminal disregard for safety on the ‘Rust’ film set. In New Mexico, there is no room for film sets that don’t take our state’s commitment to gun safety and public safety seriously.”
Under standard gun safety practice, a person shouldn’t point a gun at someone unless they intend to shoot them. Prosecutors might fault Mr. Baldwin and the crew for using a real weapon instead of a simulated gun, said Thomas Hogan, a former federal and local prosecutor who is in private practice and is pursuing a Ph.D. in criminology at the Cambridge Institute of Criminology.
“The difficult part about this case for the prosecution will be the fact that in the movies, actors must necessarily ignore the rule about pointing a gun at somebody in order to carry out their role,” he said. “The prosecution’s likely point will be that every actor should be held to a standard of always checking the weapon to see if it is loaded, whether it is loaded with live rounds or blanks (remember that Brandon Lee was killed by a blank) and whether the firearm is real. An interesting case.”
Lee was killed on the set of “The Crow” in 1993 when a series of mishaps caused material lodged in the barrel of a revolver to be shot out of the gun by a blank’s propellant.
The charges will be formally filed before the end of the month, after which the defendants will be summoned for a first appearance in court. Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Gutierrez-Reed can appear virtually or even waive their first appearances.
Mr. Baldwin previously reached an undisclosed settlement with Hutchins’ family, which filed a civil lawsuit over the tragedy.
Matthew Hutchins, Halyna’s widower, is set to be an executive producer when “Rust” resumes filming this year, although the movie will not be produced in New Mexico.