New Mexico judge considers whether to dismiss Alec Baldwin 'Rust' shooting case

A New Mexico judge is considering whether to dismiss the involuntary manslaughter charge against Alec Baldwin for his alleged role in the 2021 shooting of the “Rust” movie cameraman.

Baldwin's attorneys argued during a court hearing Friday that special prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey abused her power by withholding “significant evidence” during a grand jury proceeding in January, including witnesses favorable to Baldwin.

The 66-year-old actor's lawyers said he was the victim of an “overzealous prosecutor” who steered grand jury proceedings in an effort to secure an indictment in the high-profile case. At issue is whether the grand jury was fully informed that they could hear Baldwin's witnesses during the proceedings. Grand jurors spent a day and a half questioning witnesses introduced by prosecutors.

“The solution was in,” Baldwin attorney Alex Spiro told the judge on Friday.

The grand jury has indicted Baldwin for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the shooting of Halyna Hutchins, the 42-year-old camera operator, who was rehearsing a scene with Baldwin on October 21, 2021. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty.

At the end of Friday's hearing, New Mexico First Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said she would issue her ruling next week. Should she dismiss the case, it would be the second time misdemeanor charges against Baldwin have been dropped.

Marlowe Sommer's decision is expected less than two months before Baldwin is scheduled to stand trial in a Santa Fe courtroom.

During the hearing, which took place virtually, Morrissey denied acting in bad faith. She said she did not stop jurors from getting answers to their questions or seeking additional information. She told the judge that grand jurors had been given written instructions outlining their ability to question other witnesses, including those favorable to the defense.

But because jurors did not ask to hear from the witnesses included on a list provided by Baldwin's attorneys, several key figures in the tragedy, including film director Joel Souza, real estate mogul Sarah Zachry and assistant director David Halls, were not called to appear. to give evidence. Instead, jurors heard from police officers, a crew member who was at the church and expert witnesses hired by prosecutors.

On the day of the shooting, Hutchins, Baldwin, Souza and a dozen other crew members gathered in an old wooden church on the Bonanza Creek Ranch, south of Santa Fe, to prepare for a scene. According to the actor, Hutchins told him to pull his Colt .45 revolver from his holster and point it at the camera for an extreme close-up view. At that moment the gun went off.

Hutchins died from her injuries. Souza was injured and recovered.

Last month, Marlowe Sommer sentenced the film's gunmaker, Hannah Gutierrez, to 18 months in a New Mexico women's prison for her role in the shooting. Morrissey argued that Gutierrez was criminally negligent for allegedly bringing the live ammunition to the film production and unknowingly loading one of the lead bullets into Baldwin's gun. Gutierrez denies taking the ammunition on set.

Baldwin's prosecution has long been fraught.

Morrissey and her attorney Jason J. Lewis joined the case last year after the first team of prosecutors was forced to resign due to missteps, including the attempt to charge Baldwin for a sentence enhancement that was not yet in effect at the time of tragedy. .

“The government looked a little sophomoric and unprofessional when they charged him with a crime that wasn't a crime at the time,” said Los Angeles trial attorney Tre Lovell, who is not involved in the “Rust” shooting. “That was embarrassing.”

The original prosecutors also showed blunders in media interviews and made statements about the need to hold Baldwin accountable for his actions. Defense lawyers have argued that such commentary was excessive and damaging to the actor.

Shortly after Morrissey and Lewis joined the case, they dropped the charges against Baldwin. At the time, they said they needed more time to review the evidence and address the issues raised by Baldwin's team. Morrissey and Lewis reserve the right to refile charges.

Immediately after the charges were dropped, Baldwin traveled to Montana to finish filming “Rust.”

On Friday, Morrissey said last year's decision to drop the charges was made at the request of Baldwin's lead attorney, Luke Nikas, who provided evidence that the gun Baldwin used was modified. Subsequent tests showed the gun was functional that day, but during FBI testing in 2022, the gun was broken by forensic analysts who wanted to see how much pressure had to be applied to drop the hammer.

The damaged weapon is one of several complications facing prosecutors. Legal experts have said obtaining a conviction in Baldwin's case is expected to be more difficult than in the trial of Gutierrez, whose job was to ensure the weapons were safe.

Baldwin was handed the prop gun that day and told it was “cold,” meaning it had no ammunition in it. In reality, the revolver's chamber contained six bullets: five so-called dummies and the lead bullet that killed Hutchins.

“The State has not even alleged that Baldwin was subjectively aware of a substantial risk that the firearm contained live ammunition,” Nikas argued in the motion to dismiss the charges. “Without subjective awareness, he could not have committed the crime of involuntary manslaughter, which requires the defendant to consciously disregard a substantial and unjustifiable risk that his actions could cause the death of another person.”

Baldwin, with support from the Hollywood performers union SAG-AFTRA, has argued that it was not his job to be the gun safety officer on set.

The actor has said he had to rely on other professionals to do their jobs to ensure a safe production.

Prosecutors have a duty to present evidence in a “fair and impartial manner,” Baldwin's attorneys said.

The judge questioned Morrissey about her thoughts at the time, including an instance in which she had interrupted a sheriff's deputy and prevented her from answering a question about gun safety measures on set. Morrissey said the deputy was not an expert on film set protocols and that she instead wanted jurors to get “the most accurate information,” which would come from an experienced member of the film crew who was an expert witness.

Baldwin's attorneys were also sharply critical of Morrissey for announcing during a media interview the date the grand jury was expected to convene. Morrissey said she took responsibility for telling a reporter the original date, which was scheduled for mid-November. However, the case was postponed and the case was not brought before the grand jury until two months later, in mid-January.

Lovell, the L.A. entertainment lawyer, said he believes the case will go to trial and that efforts to dismiss the charges will be unsuccessful.

“Courts are very reluctant to dismiss cases brought by a grand jury,” Lovell said. “Courts have limited ability to review what goes to a grand jury unless it is provided in bad faith.”

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