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SAG-AFTRA defends Alec Baldwin against manslaughter charges in Rust shooting

The Screen Actors Guild (SAG-AFTRA) has defended Alec Baldwin after he was indicted for involuntary manslaughter in connection with the 2021 fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie Rust.

On 19 January, a grand jury in New Mexico (where the film was shot) charged the 65-year-old actor with manslaughter once again. Involuntary manslaughter charges had originally been dismissed in April; however, the case was again brought before a grand jury in Santa Fe last week, months after prosecutors received new analysis of the gun that was used.

“An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert,” the actors’ union argued in a recent press release. “Firearms are provided for use on set under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm.”

It continued: “Performers train to perform, and they are not required or expected to be experts on guns or experienced in their use. The industry assigns that responsibility to qualified professionals who oversee their use and handling in every aspect.”

Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer of the Western movie, was pointing a prop gun at Hutchins during a rehearsal on the movie set outside Santa Fe in October 2021 when the gun went off, discharging a real bullet that killed her and wounded director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has maintained that he’s not responsible for the shooting, saying that he pulled back the hammer, but not the trigger before the gun discharged.

Alec Baldwin Set Shooting (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)
Alec Baldwin Set Shooting (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“I know 1,000 per cent I’m not responsible for what happened to her,” Baldwin told an investigator, Detective Alexandria Hancock, in a phone call following the shooting, according to The New York Times.

Several civil lawsuits seeking compensation from Baldwin and producers of Rust have been put on hold after prosecutors said they would present charges to a grand jury. Plaintiffs in those suits include members of the film crew.

The analysis from experts in ballistics and forensic testing relied on replacement parts to reassemble the gun fired by Baldwin, after parts of the pistol were broken during testing by the FBI. The report examined the gun and markings it left on a spent cartridge to conclude that the trigger had to have been pulled or depressed.

The analysis led by Lucien Haag of Forensic Science Services in Arizona stated that although Baldwin repeatedly denied 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”.

The weapons supervisor on the movie set, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering in the case. Her trial is scheduled to begin in February.

Meanwhile, Rust assistant director and safety coordinator David Halls pleaded no contest to unsafe handling of a firearm last March and received a suspended sentence of six months of probation. He agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the shooting.

Production on Rust resumed last year in Montana, under an agreement with the cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, that made him an executive producer.