The first court hearing over the involuntary manslaughter charges against Alec Baldwin and Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stemming from the October 2021 fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins isn’t for a couple of weeks, but already the sharp-elbowed legal battle between the actor and Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies has begun.
Alec Baldwin Fatal ‘Rust’ Shooting: DA’s Witness List Full Of Crew Members From Troubled Indie Western As First Court Hearing Looms In Criminal Case
One day after Rust 1st assistant director David Halls was added to the prosecution’s already deep-bench witness list, lawyers for Baldwin are now trying to get the D.A.-appointed special prosecutor thrown off the case.
“Ms. Reeb’s continued service as a special prosecutor in this case is unconstitutional,” lead defense attorney Lubke Nikas said Tuesday in a motion to disqualify recently elected GOP state legislator Andrea Reeb from the high-profile case and subsequent trial. “The legal question is not a close one. She must be disqualified.”
“Under Section 1 of Article III of the New Mexico Constitution, however, a sitting member of the Legislature may not ‘exercise any powers properly belonging’ to either the executive or judicial branch,” the NYC-based Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan lawyer added in the motion (read it here). “As a special prosecutor, Representative Reeb is vested by statute with ‘all the powers and duties’ of a District Attorney, who is considered to be a member of either the judicial or executive branch of the New Mexico government.”
Picked by Carmack-Altwies last year near the conclusion of the Santa Fe Sheriff’s Office’s long-awaited investigation into what really happened that terrible October 21, 2021 day on the Rust set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch, longtime lawyer Reeb was elected as a Republican in November last year to serve the 64th district in the state House of Representatives.
Facing up to five years behind bars and deep fines if found guilty, Baldwin and Reed were formally charged January 31 by the D.A.’s office over the shooting of Hutchins. Baldwin has long denied he actually pulled the trigger on the 1880s prop gun that killed Hutchins and wounded Rust director Joel Souza.
“We’re trying to definitely make it clear that everybody’s equal under the law, including A-list actors like Alec Baldwin,” Reeb, an ex-former D.A. for New Mexico’s Ninth Judicial District, said after the charges were unveiled last month.
When those charges were initially announced January 19, Baldwin’s legal team called the move a “terrible miscarriage of justice” and vowed to “fight these charges, and we will win.”
Clearly, the strategy behind those words is taking incremental form with filings like today’s disqualification motion. The D.A.’s office had very stern words for the strategy today in what was a dismissal of their own.
“Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys can use whatever tactics they want to distract from the fact that Halyna Hutchins died because of gross negligence and a reckless disregard for safety on the Rust film set,” Heather Brewer, spokesperson for New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney told Deadline. “However, the district attorney and the special prosecutor will remain focused on the evidence and on trying this case so that justice is served.”
The first hearing in front of Judge Mary Marlowe Summer is scheduled for February 24, with Baldwin and Reed sent to appear virtually. If the state judge thinks there is enough evidence to move forward, the case will start to check off more calendar dates for a preliminary hearing and eventually a trial. Of course, today’s motion by Baldwin’s team could throw a spanner in the works if Reeb is tossed out and a new special prosecutor has to be found.
In another chess or checkers move depending on your perspective, the addition of Halls to the D.A.’s witness list (read it here) could prove unpleasant for Baldwin and Reed.
Long at the heart of the horrible incident, industry vet Halls was the one who handed Baldwin the gun and supposedly announced “cold gun” in the hand-off. While no one publicly seems to be saying how live ammo tragically got on the Rust set, Halls was in the chain of responsibility for on-set safety.
Likely putting pragmatism and financial resources ahead of ego, the now-retired Rust 1st AD struck an as-yet unreleased or judicially approved plea deal with prosecutors. Pleading no contest to a misdemeanor count of negligent use of a deadly weapon, he will get a suspended six-month sentence of unsupervised probation, some community service, safety training and a $500 fine if the court green lights the agreement.
“Dave Halls approached us and was cooperative with our inquiry, with our investigation,” stated D.A. Carmack-Altwies when Halls’ deal was made public last month. “He will be testifying or cooperating in the prosecution.”
At the time, Halls’ Albuquerque lawyer Lisa Torraco was vague about who her client would be taking the stand for. However, being that Halls already countersued Baldwin and other Rust crew members in December last year for “active and primary negligence” as a part of script supervisor Maime Mitchell’s wide-ranging civil litigation in Los Angeles Superior Court, it wasn’t too hard to tell what side he was likely taking in the criminal case.
Halls now officially joins the previously announced 44 individuals — including director Souza, Mitchell, armorer mentor Seth Kenney, prop master Sarah Zachary and a ton of Santa Fe cops — on the D.A.’s list, and clearly has something to say the defense doesn’t want to hear.
Set to eventually go before a jury, under New Mexico law, the first of the two involuntary manslaughter charges Baldwin and Reed face is a fourth-degree felony with sentencing of up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. The second charge, which is formally a charge of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act, is also a fourth-degree felony punishable by up to 18 months in jail and up to a $5000 fine. That second charge additionally carries a firearm enhancement. That gives the offense a punishing mandatory five years in state prison if the high-profile defendants are found guilty.
In what will certainly become a flashpoint down the line, the D.A. will permit the jury to choose which charge they want to center on in deliberations.
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