Prosecutors weigh second gun analysis in fatal shooting of cinematographer by Alec Baldwin
Aug 15, 2023, 7:18 PM
(AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)
SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Prosecutors have received a second expert analysis of the revolver fired in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin on the set of a Western film in New Mexico, as they weigh whether to refile charges against the actor.
Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was behind the camera in rehearsal. Baldwin said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired, fatally wounding Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021, at a movie ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe.
Special prosecutors dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin in April, saying they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. They commissioned a new analysis of the gun, along with other weapons and ammunition from the set of the movie, “Rust,” which moved filming from New Mexico to Montana.
The new gun analysis from experts in ballistics and forensic testing based in Arizona and New Mexico relied on replacement parts to reassemble the gun fired by Baldwin — after parts of the pistol were broken during earlier testing by the FBI. The new report examines the gun and markings it left on a spent cartridge to conclude that the trigger had to have been pulled or depressed.
“Although Alec Baldwin repeatedly denies pulling the trigger, given the tests, findings and observations reported here, the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver,” states the analysis led by Lucien Haag of Forensic Science Services in Arizona.
An attorney for Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the weapons supervisor on the movie set, disclosed the report in a court filing Tuesday. Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering in the case. Her trial is scheduled to begin in December.
Defense attorneys for Baldwin did not immediately reply to an email Tuesday seeking comment on the gun analysis. A publicist declined comment.
Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey said in an email Tuesday that a formal announcement on whether to refile any charges against Baldwin is forthcoming but didn’t say how soon.
In an early June court filing, prosecutors gave themselves 60 days to renew a case against Baldwin, contingent on a determination that the gun did not malfunction.
“A possible malfunction of the gun significantly effects causation with regard to Baldwin,” they wrote.
Authorities have not specified exactly how live ammunition found its way on set and into the .45-caliber revolver made by an Italian company that specializes in 19th century reproductions.
The company Rust Movie Productions has paid a $100,000 fine to state workplace safety regulators following a scathing narrative of safety failures in violation of standard industry protocols, including testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires on set before the fatal shooting.
An August FBI report on the agency’s analysis of the gun found that, as is common with firearms of that design, it could go off without pulling the trigger if force was applied to an uncocked hammer — such as by dropping the weapon.
The only way the testers could get it to fire was by striking the gun with a mallet while the hammer was down and resting on the cartridge, or by pulling the trigger while it was fully cocked. The gun eventually broke during the testing.
In Tuesday’s court filing, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys asked for new safeguards at trial to ensure the movie armorer can’t be convicted if negligence by any other person was the only significant cause of death or changed the course of events in unforeseeable ways.
Morrissey criticized the defense’s request for special jury instructions as premature and a bid for media attention.
Defense attorneys said they plan to present evidence that Gutierrez-Reed asked assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls to call her back into rehearsal if Baldwin was going to use the gun. She said that didn’t happen before Hutchins was shot.
In March, Halls pleaded no contest to a conviction for unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months of probation. He agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the shooting that also wounded director Joel Souza.
Jason Bowles, an attorney for Gutierrez-Reed, said the new analysis of the gun that was fired at Hutchins “supports the idea that there was no modification” to the gun prior to the fatal shooting and that it fired as designed when broken parts were replaced.
The new firearms report contains images of the broken, disassembled gun as delivered in July, along with images taken from a video of Baldwin in rehearsal prior to the fatal shooting, with his finger apparently resting on the trigger of the pistol.
“From an examination of the fired cartridge case and the operationally restored evidence revolver, this fatal incident was the consequence of the hammer being manually retracted to its fully rearward and cocked position followed, at some point, by the pull or rearward depression of the trigger,” the report from Haag states. “The only conceivable alternative to the foregoing would be a situation in which the trigger was already pulled or held rearward while retracting the hammer to its full cock position.”