New Mexico prosecutors overseeing criminal cases in the deadly “Rust” shooting have received a new firearms report that appears to cast doubt on actor Alec Baldwin’s account of the tragedy.
Baldwin has long maintained he did not pull the trigger of his prop Colt .45 revolver, firing a bullet that accidentally killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a movie rehearsal nearly three years ago. Baldwin has said he pulled, then released, the gun’s hammer because Hutchins wanted to get a close-up camera angle of the gun’s loaded barrel.
Prosecutors initially filed two counts of involuntary manslaughter against Baldwin as well as the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed.
Special prosecutors Kari T. Morrissey and Jason J. Lewis took over the case in late March following missteps by previous prosecutors. They quickly dismissed criminal charges against Baldwin.
Morrissey and Lewis said they could not move forward with Baldwin’s prosecution because “new facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis.”
Sources have said prosecutors were told the gun had been modified before it was delivered to the “Rust” set near Santa Fe, N.M.
Morrissey and Lewis in April left open the option of refiling charges against Baldwin, saying their decision to withdraw the charges did not “absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability.”
After special prosecutors dropped the charges, Baldwin reportedly traveled to Montana to resume the filming of “Rust.” Production of the movie wrapped up in mid-May.
A respected firearms expert was brought in by prosecutors to determine whether the Italian-made Pietta pistol, a replica of a vintage 1873 model, was functional or faulty, which could have contributed to the deadly accident on set.
The firearms expert, Lucien C. Haag, recently completed his report.
“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,” Haag wrote in his Aug. 3 report submitted to Morrissey and Lewis and viewed by The Times.
It’s unclear whether prosecutors will use the report’s findings to bring new charges in the Oct. 21, 2021, shooting that killed Hutchins and injured the film’s director, Joel Souza, who has since recovered.
Morrissey has previously said prosecutors would make a determination about Baldwin by mid-August. On Tuesday, Morrissey declined to comment, indicating her office was still gathering information.
The gun’s functionality has long been in dispute.
The FBI, in a separate report last year, concluded the gun’s trigger needed to have been pulled for the gun to fire. But FBI analysts also acknowledged they damaged the gun during testing at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., to see whether the gun would misfire.
The FBI report said that during testing, analysts could not fire the gun when the hammer was cocked, unless they pulled the trigger. However, the report did note that when the hammer was in the “rest” position, the gun could fire “without a pull of the trigger when the hammer was struck directly” by another object.
In court documents, Baldwin’s attorneys have pointed to the broken components, suggesting the gun was not reliable.
In his 30-page report, Haag said he was asked to assess the operation and condition of the weapon at the time of the incident. He described taking possession of the prop gun from the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, where it has been stored in evidence. Haag said he needed to rebuild the weapon to complete his analysis.
“The full-cock step on the hammer had been severely damaged, the top of the trigger’s sear was broken off and the bolt (cylinder stop) was also broken,” Haag wrote.
Haag said he then installed a new bolt and “the trigger and hammer from a new, unfired Pietta 1873, .45 Colt, [single/action] revolver.”
“Upon reassembly, the evidence revolver was found to function properly and in accordance with the operational design of original Colt 1873 single-action revolvers,” wrote Haag, who owns Arizona-based Forensic Science Services Inc.
His findings appear to bolster the FBI’s conclusions last year.
Haag’s analysis also showed a “trigger pull value” of about 2 pounds, roughly the same as the FBI findings. He also included several images in his report of Baldwin practicing with the gun before the fatal shooting with his finger on or near the trigger. Cameras were not rolling when the tragedy occurred.
The report did not mention any modifications to the gun.
Separately, weapons provider Seth Kenney said in a July 11 witness interview that the gun had not been modified, according to a video of Kenney’s appearance before prosecutors.
“Absolutely not,” Kenney said, noting that a California-based supplier had sent him the gun, via Federal Express, and he then turned it over to the film’s prop master, Sarah Zachry, to deliver to the set.
Kenney was not immediately available for comment.
The case has been fraught.
The original prosecutors were pressured to step down from the case after several struggles, including filing a count against Baldwin and Gutierrez that would have carried a mandatory five-year prison sentence. However, the law requiring a five-year sentence wasn’t on the books in late 2021, when the accident occurred.
Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb resigned amid controversy in March over her dual role as a member of the prosecution and of the New Mexico Legislature. Later that month, 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies relinquished the case after the judge refused to allow her to team up with special prosecutors. Carmack-Altwies had argued that her office was short-staffed and she needed help.
An investigator hired by Carmack-Altwies dismissed the sheriff’s investigation as sloppy. In an email to the prosecutors, investigator Robert Shilling wrote: “The conduct of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office during and after their initial investigation is reprehensible and unprofessional to a degree I still have no words for.” Shilling has since stepped down.
The Santa Fe sheriff has previously declined to comment on Shilling’s assessment.
In recent months, prosecutors have stepped up their case against Gutierrez Reed. The 25-year-old armorer pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering charges.
Morrissey has said Gutierrez Reed was “the most culpable defendant in a case that resulted in the senseless death of another person.”
In June, they accused Gutierrez Reed of drinking and smoking marijuana during off-hours while the western was in production. They have alleged that she probably was hung over on the fatal day when Baldwin’s gun fired during the rehearsal in an old wooden church at Bonanza Creek Ranch. Her attorneys have challenged the allegations, saying there was no proof of drug use.
Investigators have been unable to figure out how six live bullets made their way onto the movie set. Film industry protocols forbid actual bullets on movie locations.
In addition to the bullet that killed Hutchins, sheriff’s deputies found several other live bullets along with so-called dummy rounds on the prop cart used by Zachry and Gutierrez Reed.
Another functional bullet was located in a gun holster and another was found in an additional actor’s gun belt, according to Haag’s report. That gun belt or bandolier was described as “youth size,” the report said, suggesting that it might have been assigned to a young actor appearing in the western.
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