Top NM defense attorney expects charges in ‘Rust’ shooting

(NewsNation) — Prosecutors in New Mexico will announce Thursday whether criminal charges will be brought against anyone in the fatal shooting on the “Rust” movie set in 2021.

The decision from First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies will come nearly 16 months after a prop gun handled by actor Alec Baldwin discharged on set, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza. Baldwin maintains he never pulled the trigger, though a report from the FBI refuted that assertion.

Carmack-Altwies will announce the decision via a written statement at 11 a.m. ET, her office said in a Facebook post Wednesday. There will be no news conference or media availability.

“Regardless of the District Attorney’s decision, the announcement will be a solemn occasion, made in a manner keeping with the office’s commitment to upholding the integrity of the judicial process and respecting the victim’s family,” said Heather Brewer, spokesperson for the office of the First Judicial District Attorney.

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In the months that followed the Oct. 21, 2021 shooting, investigations by police and state agencies indicated there were multiple problems with safety on set. The production company was fined by the the state’s Occupational Health & Safety Bureau, and the FBI report found guns were prone to breaking.

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During a meeting in September, the district attorney’s office said it would be potentially charging one to four people and asked the state for $600,000 in funding for its investigation.

Jennifer Burrill, president-elect of the New Mexico Criminal Defense Lawyers Association, expects the state will pursue involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin.

“I think it’s really unlikely that they would have asked for the $600,000 in funding if they didn’t think they had enough to go forward on that,” Burrill said Wednesday on “Dan Abrams Live.” “I think it’s more likely to actually settle on negligent use of a deadly weapon, which is a misdemeanor. But I think they’re probably going to go forward with the fourth-degree felony (of involuntary manslaughter), or at least attempt to.”

While Burrill believes the state will announce it is pursuing manslaughter charges, she’s not sure a grand jury will be persuaded. State law, she said, requires a notice to be filed within 24 hours of the decision of the grand jury, “and nothing has been filed that we’ve been made aware of.”

“They could have already taken this to the grand jury before they presented it publicly, and we have not gotten any information that a target notice has gone out to any of the suspects in this case, so it doesn’t look like that’s happened,” Burrill said.

Aside from a grand jury, prosecutors could go before a judge to secure charges, which is the path Burrill would have chosen if she were a prosecutor in this case.

“They’ve made the decision to try this in the media, and so everybody in this community already has tons of information,” Burrill said. “The thing that we haven’t seen despite everything that was disclosed is anything that shows it was intentional, and that’s why most people want to see criminal charges. This looks like pure negligence.”

Another person expecting charges is Jennifer Coffindaffer, a former FBI agent. She said Wednesday on “CUOMO” that it’s “unbelievable” charges haven’t already been filed.

“It was an accident, it was tragic, but a life was taken, and it was taken because of not taking care to check that gun properly, to make sure it wasn’t loaded with live ammunition,” Coffindaffer said. “I think it’s very possible (that Baldwin is charged). He was the one that fired the shot and he, in my opinion, wasn’t truthful about pulling that trigger.”

Baldwin has pointed the blame at the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for overseeing weapons and ammunition on set. He said in a civil lawsuit that Gutierrez-Reed and other crew members acted negligently by handing him a loaded gun but announcing it was safe.

Also named in that lawsuit is David Halls, an assistant director, and Sarah Zachry, who Baldwin alleges “failed to disclose that Gutierrez-Reed had been acting recklessly off set.”

Baldwin’s narrative of that day is listed in what’s known as a cross-complaint in a lawsuit that was filed against him by Mamie Mitchell, who sued Baldwin and the production company for emotional distress. Gutierrez-Reed, Zachry and Halls are all listed as defendants in the original suit.

Baldwin’s attorneys assert he had no knowledge that the gun was loaded, and therefore shouldn’t be liable.

“In fact, (Gutierrez-Reed) told Baldwin that it was her job to check the gun — not his,” the suit alleges. “Similarly, Baldwin believed, based on prior gun safety training he received on move sets, that actors should not unliterally check guns for live ammunition.”

An attorney for Gutierrez Reed has said the armorer did not put a live round in the gun that killed Hutchins, and believes she was the victim of sabotage. Authorities said they’ve found no evidence of that.

NewsNation affiliate KRQE contributed to this report.

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