More than a year after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was killed in an accidental shooting on the Sante Fe film set for “Rust,” prosecutors announced impending manslaughter charges against the film’s producer and actor Alec Baldwin, and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are each charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter and could face a mandatory five years in prison if found guilty. Firm co-founder and personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio told Newsweek, “If Baldwin decides to take this to trial, I don’t see any result other than a jury finding Baldwin guilty.”
“He was the producer, it was his project, and he, along with other producers chose to make this a low-budget film. Baldwin had some degree of control regarding how much would be spent on safety measures, meaning he had some say in choosing the level of experience of the armorer. Plus, he was the one who pulled the trigger,” he continued.
The production’s assistant director David Halls, who was responsible for checking to ensure the gun was not loaded with a live round, signed a plea agreement with the prosecutors. “Halls is the game changer,” Miguel told USA Today as this suggests Halls will help the prosecution against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed.
Miguel explained Halls’ role further to The Wrap, “He might be an X factor in this case for the prosecution… I’m curious to see what was talked about [in the room] other than just him yelling, ‘Yeah, the gun’s cold!’ How bad of a set was it? That’s going to also potentially hurt Baldwin, testimony from a lot of cast members saying, ‘This place was in chaos’… at the end of the day, it was his set. He needed to make sure the set was safe, and it obviously wasn’t.”
With reports of several crew members walking off the set due to its poor working environment just six hours before the shooting, it’s known that this set had been problematic from the beginning. Does Baldwin, not just as an actor but a producer, stand a chance in his defense against these charges? Miguel told The Guardian the prosecution may be facing an uphill battle.
“Prosecutors may have evidence that he knew there were live bullets around, because there’s pretty strong evidence that things were going haywire on this set. But he’s going to raise a defense that he was relying on his assistant director to tell him whether there were live bullets in the gun. And he will point the finger at the armorer whose job it was to also check whether there were live bullets in the gun.”
Let’s not forget Baldwin’s several high-profile interviews and social media posts where he attempted to clear his name. After the ABC News interview with George Stephanopoulos, Miguel told Insider and Fox News why this was not a smart decision, “Alec Baldwin has made a super risky move by agreeing to this interview, especially because he’s taking an absolute position on how the gun was fired.” His statements have the potential to backfire against him in trial, if he doesn’t settle beforehand.
If a trial does take place, Miguel told Fox News what he thinks it could look like, “I think there will be a battle of experts at trial. You are going to hear a lot about what the standard is for an actor to check whether a gun is loaded or not, and that may poke holes in the prosecution’s argument.”
“Even so, there’s still a lot of evidence that needs to be divulged,” he noted. “The preliminary hearing will tell us exactly what is on the table. District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said that investigators have not determined how the bullets got onto the set, and the defense team will pounce on that.”
Despite the announcement of these charges, “Rust” will continue production with a ban on live ammunition and working weapons. With Hutchins’ husband, Matthew, signed on as an executive producer of the film and director Joel Souza on board to resume filming, the project is on track to be completed, according to a source for The New York Times.
Take a look at Miguel’s appearance in Noticias Telemundo discussing the case and read his analysis in The Independent, The Week, El Cuidadano and more, which you can find here on Custodio & Dubey LLP.