Since a pistol fired during filming in New Mexico last month, firing the bullet that killed renowned filmmaker Halina Hutchins, two questions have arisen around the tragic incident.
How could this happen? Who’s to blame?
Unsurprisingly, many took notice of the man holding the weapon when it exploded: actor Alec Baldwin, who was supposed to star in the gritty western, Rust. But legal experts and former law enforcement officials say that despite wielding the Colt .45 revolver that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Sousa, Baldwin may face the least criminal threat of anyone who has dealt. with weapons that day.
Rather, experts say assistant director David Halls and gunsmith Hannah Guttires Reed are far more in danger of facing manslaughter charges in Hutchins’ murder in New Mexico’s 1st Judicial District. Atty. Mary Carmack-Altvis decided that a criminal case should be brought against any person.
“Alec Baldwin could very well have pulled that trigger and that bullet could have killed this woman, but what matters to the criminal justice system is what he knew or should have known,” said Laurie Levenson, a former federal attorney who now serves as a law professor. Loyola School in Los Angeles. “It’s not enough just to say that his fingerprints are on the trigger.”
While Baldwin’s behavior appeared to be contrary to common sense gun safety rules – there is no indication that he was checking to see if the weapon was loaded or trying to point it in a safe direction – legal experts said Baldwin followed the instructions of others and rehearsing the scene on the set of the film at the time greatly reduces his guilt.
Legal observers say prosecutors are likely to focus on the behavior of those in charge of weapons storage and security on set.
Several experts told The Times that they are concerned about Halls’ statements to Santa Fe County sheriff investigators after the shooting, statements that were first made public in an affidavit for a search warrant released last week. Halls told detectives that he saw three cartridges in the revolver before it was handed over to Baldwin and admitted that he “should have checked all of them, but didn’t,” according to his affidavit.
“This is very convincing evidence of criminal negligence. “You had one job,” said Pat McLaughlin, a retired NYPD detective who teaches forensic science at the John Jay School of Criminal Justice in Manhattan. “If you don’t double-check things like this, you create an exponential risk of a tragic accident.”
New Mexico authorities did not provide a timetable for their investigation. During her only public briefing after the shooting, Carmack-Altvis said her office had not ruled out the charges.
Court documents describe Halls as the man who handed the weapon over to Baldwin and declared “melee weapons,” showing that the revolver was only loaded with blanks. In public comments following the publication of the affidavit, Halls’ attorney Lisa Torraco disputed the allegation that the assistant director had given Baldwin a weapon or that he had not checked the ammunition in the cell, which directly contradicts the remarks made by her client to the detectives. , according to written testimony. She also argued that gun safety was not Halls’ responsibility.
Torraco did not respond to requests for comment from The Times. But legal experts said both Halls and Guttirez Reed were responsible for gun safety on set.
“Both of them did not do their job. It is impossible to imagine a pistol with a live bullet lying around the set, ”said David Ring, a Los Angeles-based plaintiffs’ attorney who won a number of high-profile personal injury cases. “So the two people who somehow allowed this to happen are the assistant director and the gunsmith, and both of them will be prosecuted for this.”
Halls told investigators that Gutierrez Reed used to “spin” the top revolvers on set before they were handed over to the cast, but was not sure if she did so on the day of filming. Gutierrez Reed’s lawyer, Jason Bowles, issued a statement earlier this week claiming she did.
During a live interview last week, Bowles also made the bizarre suggestion that someone might have mixed live ammunition with blanks commonly used on set to “sabotage” production, but did not provide any evidence for his claims. Bowles did not respond to The Times’ request for comment.
McLaughlin said even that wild assertion might not have helped the gunsmith’s potential defense, who pointed to Gutierrez Reed’s confession in affidavit that the ammunition was “left on a cart on set, not secured” before firing.
“You left him unattended. Any number of people could interact with this ammunition while you were not there, “he said, adding that” it will be the responsibility of the gunsmith to keep track of each item of ammunition. “
If Gutierrez Reed is indicted, it will not be the first time an ammunition expert from a Hollywood film crew has been put on trial after a tragic death during filming. When prosecutors filed manslaughter charges in the infamous 1982 helicopter crash that killed actor Vic Morrow and two children while filming The Twilight Zone: The Movie, the special effects coordinator was among the five accused.
Prosecutors argued that the bomb explosions used at the scene that went wrong were unnecessarily powerful, and partly to blame for the coordinator’s negligence and recklessness. The jury was ultimately acquitted of all charges.
Levenson said the allegations could also go beyond those physically present on the day of Hutchins’ death if police and prosecutors uncover a pattern of misconduct or unsafe working conditions on set. In 2015, the producer of The Midnight Rider was charged with manslaughter after an assistant operator was killed by debris hit by a train that crashed into an overpass while filming a biopic about Gregg Allman of Georgia.
The producer did not have permission to film in the area and they were in the middle of filming as the train was rushing towards them. Executive producer Jay Sedrish was given a 10-year suspended sentence, although he was not on set at the time of the crash.
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza admitted that he is investigating rumors that people were shooting at targets on the set, and his detectives retrieved live ammunition from the ranch where the film was filmed. Crew members told The Times that there had been at least three previous accidental shots on set, including an incident in which a props officer “shot himself in the foot” with a blank shot.
If a police investigation confirms such reports, or a likely search for e-mail and other communications between employees reveals similar incidents, the producers or executives may also face the risk of criminal exposure, experts say.
“You hear a lot of the dollar stopping here, and it’s possible that there are people above … who are responsible for keeping the set safe even if they weren’t on set,” Levenson said. “You don’t have to be on the spot when the pistol is fired to be responsible.”
Hutchins’ death has awakened memories of another notorious death on set – the tragic murder of actor Brandon Lee during the filming of The Crow in 1993 in North Carolina. Lee was wounded in the spine by a .44 caliber bullet fired from a weapon that was supposedly capable of firing only blanks. However, prosecutors ultimately refused to press charges, noting that they had failed to prove that conditions on set amounted to “willful and meaningless” negligence.