Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” Shooting Case Heads to Trial as Judge Denies Latest Dismissal Attempt

In a significant development in the ongoing legal saga surrounding the tragic 2021 “Rust” movie set shooting, actor Alec Baldwin faced another setback on Friday, June 28, 2024. New Mexico Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer rejected Baldwin’s third attempt to have the involuntary manslaughter charges against him dismissed before his upcoming trial, setting the stage for a high-profile court battle next month.

The incident at the center of this case occurred on October 21, 2021, while filming the low-budget Western “Rust” at the Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico. Baldwin, who stars in and co-produced the film, was rehearsing a scene that involved drawing a Colt .45 revolver. The gun discharged, fatally wounding 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

Since the tragedy, Baldwin has consistently maintained that he did not pull the trigger and was unaware that the gun contained live ammunition. However, prosecutors allege that Baldwin recklessly pointed the firearm at Hutchins during the rehearsal and pulled the trigger, leading to her death.

In the latest legal maneuver, Baldwin’s defense team, led by attorneys from Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan LLP, argued that the indictment should be thrown out due to damage caused to the gun during forensic testing. FBI examiners conducted tests to determine if the firearm could have accidentally fired without the trigger being pulled, which the defense claimed altered this crucial piece of evidence.

During a recent hearing, Baldwin’s lawyer, John Bash, contended that this damage prevented them from examining the gun in its original state, calling it “some of the most egregious conduct with respect to the destruction of evidence.” The defense argued that this denial of opportunity to inspect the unaltered firearm violated Baldwin’s due process rights and could have potentially exonerated him.

However, Judge Sommer was not persuaded by these arguments. In her ruling, she determined that prosecutors had not acted in bad faith when conducting the tests and that the unaltered gun was unlikely to have had apparent exculpatory value before its destruction. The judge emphasized that while it was “unfortunate” that the gun was damaged during testing, its parts remain available for examination.

This decision marks Baldwin’s third unsuccessful attempt to have the case dismissed before trial. Previous motions argued prosecutorial misconduct and insufficient evidence of a crime, both of which were also rejected by Judge Sommer.

The upcoming trial, set to begin with jury selection on July 9, 2024, is expected to feature testimony from over 60 witnesses, including director Joel Souza and various experts. The prosecution plans to present evidence they claim shows the firearm “could not have fired absent a pull of the trigger” and was functioning properly before the shooting.

The case has already seen one conviction related to the incident. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the 26-year-old armorer responsible for weapons on the “Rust” set, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter by a New Mexico jury in March 2024. She is currently serving an 18-month prison sentence while appealing her conviction. Gutierrez-Reed was blamed for the presence of live ammunition on set, which is typically prohibited in film productions.

The tragedy and subsequent legal proceedings have sent shockwaves through the film industry, raising serious questions about on-set safety protocols and the responsibilities of actors and crew members in handling prop weapons. The incident led to a brief pause in the production of “Rust,” but filming eventually resumed in January 2023 under a settlement agreement with Hutchins’ widower, Matthew, who joined as an executive producer.

As the trial date approaches, the legal community and the public alike are keenly watching this high-profile case. If convicted, Baldwin could face up to 18 months in prison, the same maximum sentence given to Gutierrez-Reed.

The judge’s latest ruling ensures that all evidence related to the firearm, including its condition before and after testing, will be thoroughly examined during the trial. Judge Sommer emphasized that prosecutors must fully disclose the nature of the FBI’s testing and its impact on the evidence to the jury.

This case continues to garner significant attention, not only for its Hollywood connection but also for its potential implications on film set safety practices and the legal responsibilities of actors and crew members. As July 9 approaches, all eyes will be on the Santa Fe courthouse, where Alec Baldwin will finally face a jury to determine his role in the tragic incident that has forever changed the lives of those involved and left an indelible mark on the film industry.