Hollywood actor Alec Baldwin has been formally charged in New Mexico with involuntary manslaughter over the fatal shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the western film Rust.
Baldwin has vowed to fight the two counts against him, with his lawyer calling the case a “terrible miscarriage of justice”.
Halyna Hutchins, 42, died after a prop gun held by the 64-year-old star was discharged during rehearsals for the movie in October 2021.
The charge – which carries five years in jail – would require prosecutors to convince a jury that Baldwin was not just negligent but reckless in his use of a firearm.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for weapons on the Rust set, has also been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter.
Legal experts have said prosecutors will struggle to win convictions without proof Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed knew live ammunition was present but took no precautions.
Hutchins’ family welcomed the charges when they were announced earlier in January, saying Baldwin showed “conscious disregard for human life”.
Rust assistant director Dave Halls is facing negligent use of a deadly weapon charges. He has pleaded no contest and has entered into a plea agreement that is pending approval.
Industry-wide firearms safety guidelines instruct actors to assume a firearm is loaded with blanks and rely on professional weapons handlers to ensure a weapon is safe.
Actors are told to only point a weapon at a person under the guidance of firearms professionals. Live ammunition is strictly forbidden on sets.
Gutierrez-Reed said she checked the rounds she loaded in the revolver were dummies before handing it to Halls.
Halls handed it to Baldwin, telling him it was a “cold gun” or unloaded, according to police.
Read more: Criminal reckoning awaits Alec Baldwin – but he remains defiant and even bullish
The decision on charges was made about three months after prosecutors received the final report on the shooting from the Santa Fe sheriff’s office, following a lengthy investigation also involving the FBI.
The sheriff’s office investigation has yet to reveal how live ammunition got onto the set.
Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb said at the time: “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.
“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.”
Santa Fe’s district attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said: “No one is above the law, and everyone deserves justice.”
A spokesperson for her office added: “The evidence and facts speak for themselves.”
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Gutierrez-Reed testified to New Mexico’s worker safety agency on 7 December that the shooting might have been prevented had she had more time to train Baldwin. She said he had “poor form” when using the revolver.
But Gabrielle Pickle, the movie’s line producer, told the agency that Gutierrez-Reed was granted all the days she requested to fulfill her duties.
Baldwin and the Rust production company reached a civil settlement for an undisclosed amount with Hutchins’s family in October and announced that production of the film would resume this year. After the criminal charges were announced, the film’s lawyer confirmed Baldwin would remain in the lead role in the film.
Hutchins’s husband Matt will also remain executive producer – and Joel Souza, who was injured in the shooting, is returning as director.
Several other lawsuits have also been filed in relation to the shooting.
Hutchins died on the set outside Sante Fe, New Mexico, when a revolver Baldwin was rehearsing with fired with a live bullet.
Baldwin has denied responsibility for the shooting – saying live ammunition should never have been allowed on set and weapons handlers were responsible for firearm safety.