Prosecutors reduced the charges against actor and producer Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on a film set in New Mexico. Though the two are still charged with involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors dropped the firearm enhancement from the second charge, greatly lessening potential jail time.
Baldwin was handling a prop gun when it discharged and struck Hutchins on the set of the western film “Rust” in October 2021, and Gutierrez-Reed was tasked with checking weapons for safety.
Both face two charges in the alternative, meaning a jury would determine which charge they should be convicted under, if any.
The first is simple involuntary manslaughter, and the second is involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act, which “requires proof that there was more than simple negligence involved in a death,” according to a news release.
The second charge originally included “a firearm enhancement, or added mandatory penalty, because a firearm was involved,” which carries a mandatory minimum sentence of five years.
The amended charges were filed on Friday. Heather Brewer, a spokesperson for the district attorney, said in a statement on Monday that the reduction was made “to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys. … The prosecution’s priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.”
Luke Nikas, an attorney for Baldwin, did not respond to The Washington Post’s request for comment. Earlier this month, Baldwin’s attorneys said in a court filing the prosecutors “committed an unconstitutional and elementary legal error” in charging the actor with the firearm enhancement, arguing it did not exist in its current form when the fatal shooting occurred.
In October 2021, the enhancement applied when “a firearm was brandished in the commission of a noncapital felony,” with “brandished” defined as “displaying or making a firearm known to another person while the firearm is present on the person of the offending party with intent to intimidate or injure a person.” A newer version requires only that a firearm be “discharged.”
The ruling comes less than two weeks after Baldwin’s legal troubles continued to worsen when the Ukrainian family of Hutchins — her father, mother and sister — sued him and others involved with the production, citing battery, intentional infliction of emotional distress, negligence and loss of consortium or the impact of Hutchins’s death on her personal relationships. That suit itself arrived months after Hutchins’s widower settled a lawsuit against Baldwin and others.
Baldwin has long maintained his innocence, claiming in several high-profile interviews and social media posts that he did not pull the gun’s trigger and that he feels no responsibility for Hutchins’s death — an approach of trying the case in the court of public opinion that many experts believe may have caused him legal damage.
In a November lawsuit, Baldwin alleged the shooting was caused by the negligence of Gutierrez-Reed; first assistant director Dave Halls, who handed the gun to Baldwin and said it was safe and who has since signed a plea deal for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon; Sarah Zachry, who was in charge of props; and Seth Kenney, who supplied the guns and ammunition on the set. Halls filed a countersuit against Baldwin.
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed are scheduled to enter their pleas on Friday. The film will resume filming in spring, according to the Hollywood Reporter.