This handout image courtesy of Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office released April 25, 2022 and part of the investigative files, shows actor Alec Baldwin being processed after the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, October 21, 2022. (Photo by Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office / AFP)

Los Angeles, United States | AFP | Friday 4/21/2023 – 02:48 UTC+2 | 624 words

by Andrew MARSZAL

Manslaughter charges against Alec Baldwin over a fatal shooting on a movie set are to be dropped, the prosecutor said Thursday, citing “new facts” that merit further investigation.

Baldwin was charged in January over the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the filming of the Western “Rust” in New Mexico in 2021, and pleaded not guilty.

He was holding a Colt .45 handgun during rehearsals when it discharged, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza, but has always insisted he was told the gun was safe and that he did not pull the trigger.

Just weeks ahead of a planned two-week hearing, special prosecutors appointed last month said they were yanking the charges, but warned Baldwin was not out of the woods.

“Over the last few days and in preparation for the May 3, 2023, preliminary hearing, new facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis,” said a statement by New Mexico attorneys Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis.

“We therefore will be dismissing the involuntary manslaughter charges against Mr. Baldwin to conduct further investigation.

“This decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled. Our follow-up investigation will remain active and on-going.”

The attorneys said charges against Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the young armorer who had been responsible for weapons on the set of the film, remain unchanged.

Baldwin’s lawyers welcomed the move, which is expected to be formalized at a court hearing in Santa Fe, New Mexico on Friday.

“We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident,” said attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro.

The criminal case against Baldwin has hit multiple legal potholes in the past few months.

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed were each initially charged with two alternative counts of voluntary manslaughter.

But a so-called “firearm enhancement” which would have increased the jail term if they were convicted, was dropped soon afterwards, due to an alleged technical error by prosecutors.

Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies and the case’s previous special prosecutor Andrea Reeb both stepped aside from overseeing the case against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed.

In a statement Thursday, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys said the “new special prosecutor team has taken a very diligent and thorough approach to the entire investigation.”

– ‘Recriminations’ –

Filming of “Rust” was due to resume Thursday at a new location in the northern US state of Montana.

The cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, is serving as an executive producer.

He has already settled a wrongful death suit with “Rust” producers, and has said he has “no interest in engaging in recriminations or attribution of blame,” calling his wife’s death “a terrible accident.”

Baldwin earlier agreed to terms with the New Mexico court that will allow him to complete filming of the movie, including a ban on his using guns or drinking alcohol.

Director Souza, who is also returning, said completing the movie would be “bittersweet” but that the cast and crew “are committed to completing what Halyna and I started.”

A documentary will also be made, covering Halyna Hutchins’s life and the completion of the film.

The accident sent shockwaves through Hollywood and led to calls for a total ban on real guns on set.

Industry experts have said there are already stringent safety rules in place, but that they were ignored.

Dave Halls, the film’s safety coordinator and assistant director, who handed Baldwin the loaded gun, agreed to a plea deal with prosecutors and was sentenced last month to six months’ probation.

© Agence France-Presse