Some bureaucratic formalities between the Santa Fe District Attorney and the New Mexico IRS shed light on possible, long-awaited next steps prosecutors could take after last year’s fatal shooting on the set of Rust.
Santa Fe Dist. atty Mary Carmack-Altwies’ emergency request for $635,500 from the state for prosecution is the first clue to the extent of a criminal case in the murder of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in the low-budget western.
In a document seen by The Times, Carmack-Altwies said she could prosecute up to four people, each requiring their own jury trial — including popular actor Alec Baldwin — who authorities said fired the gun that caused the fire accidentally killed the 42-year-old. old mother of one and hurtful director Joel Souza.
Here are some other key takeaways from the move:
Indictments appear imminent
The letter suggests prosecutors are close to filing criminal charges, attorneys said.
“The fact that the DA went to the state to get this funding leads me to believe that at least one person is now being charged,” said the trial attorney and former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani, President of West Coast Trial Lawyers, who is not involved in the case. “This is a public document, you had better be ready to sue someone.”
As Baldwin’s attorney Luke Nikas said, prosecutors have said they have not yet decided who will be charged.
But Carmack-Altwie’s request for emergency funding — to pay for a special counsel, media spokesman and witnesses — underscores the scale of the cases and the pressure her small office is under to respond to a tragedy involving a big Hollywood star.
“It’s definitely an indication that indictments are coming in, and likely indictments that they believe represent a significant endeavor for their department,” said Joshua Ritter, a partner at Werksman Jackson & Quinn and a former Los Angeles County prosecutor.
“It looks like this county office is facing a very big lawsuit,” he added. “We can connect the dots where you might expect Alec Baldwin to be one of the defendants.”
The production has already faced a fine on allegations of negligence by the state health and safety agency, and several civil lawsuits are pending. Rust Productions has denied wrongdoing. However, those administrative fees and civil lawsuits will not feed into law enforcement decision-making, Rahmani said.
Not just Baldwin, who could be charged
In addition to Baldwin, several others could face criminal charges.
The film’s gunsmith Hannah Gutierrez Reed and first assistant director Dave Halls, who have been sued civilly, are possible targets.
However, it is difficult to sue an employer like a production company, Rahmani said. Some crew members told the Times there were safety issues on set, including accidental firings, but producers have denied the allegation.
Baldwin, also a producer on the film, has blamed Gutierrez on Reed and Halls. “There are two people who didn’t do what they were supposed to do,” he told CNN in an interview. “I want everyone to know that these are the two people responsible for what happened.”
While Gutierrez Reed was in charge of maintaining the guns, Halls called out “cold gun” and suggested the gun was safe to use, Baldwin said in an ABC News interview last year. And Halls told detectives on the day of the incident that he thought he saw three rounds, admitting that “he should have checked them all but didn’t.”
Gutierrez Reed officials declined to comment. Lisa Torraco, attorney for Halls, said she doesn’t think her client should be charged.
Gutierrez Reed has denied any wrongdoing, arguing that she was overwhelmed by the production and was also tasked with managing props. Halls’ attorney previously contradicted an affidavit in which Halls said he took a gun from the cart and handed it to Baldwin, saying it didn’t happen.
What are the possible fees?
A murder charge against Baldwin and all of the other defendants would be difficult to bring, attorneys said, because there is no evidence anyone had any intent to kill other crew members.
Prosecutors are more likely to be looking for negligent or involuntary manslaughter, several legal experts said.
“From what we know about it, it still looks like this was a very tragic accident,” Ritter said. “Personally, I would be shocked if any charges of manslaughter were brought, but I would be less surprised if it involved something along the lines of negligently firing a gun or negligently handling a gun or brandishing a gun.”
Baldwin has said he believes he has been handed a safe gun on a safe set. “That seems like a pretty strong defense,” added Ritter.
But prosecutors could argue that Baldwin shouldn’t have pointed the gun at a person — even if he thought it contained blanks, or was cocking the gun, or had his finger near the trigger, Rahmani said.
In New Mexico, involuntary manslaughter is a fourth-degree felony with a maximum sentence of 18 years.
A long-awaited FBI report, including an analysis of the gun Baldwin fired, was turned over to police last month and concluded that the pistol “functioned normally when tested in the lab.” The analysts suggested the gun could not be fired without the trigger being pulled — something Baldwin has said he didn’t do.
Nikas, Baldwin’s attorney, came to a different conclusion.
“The gun only fired once in testing – without having to pull the trigger – when the hammer was pulled back and the gun broke in two different places,” said Nikas. “The FBI could not fire the gun in any previous test, even with the trigger pulled, because it was in such poor condition.”
https://www.latimes.com/entertainment-arts/business/story/2022-09-27/rust-takeaways-prosecutors-alec-baldwin-criminal-charges Key takeaways from ‘Rust’ prosecution plans