SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Prosecutors said Thursday they will dismiss an involuntary manslaughter charge against Alec Baldwin in the fatal 2021 shooting of a cinematographer on the set of the Western film “ Rust,” but cautioned that their investigation is not over and the actor has not been absolved yet.
Special prosecutors Kari Morrisey and Jason Lewis announced their decision to dismiss the felony charge after “new facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis,” without giving further details. An involuntary manslaughter charge against Hannah Gutierrez Reed, weapons supervisor on the film, remains unchanged, they said.
“We cannot proceed under the current time constraints and on the facts and evidence turned over by law enforcement,” the prosecutors said in a statement. “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.”
Lawyers for Baldwin were first to announce that prosecutors were changing course, in a sharp turnaround for the Hollywood luminary who just a few months ago was confronting the possibility of a yearslong prison sentence.
“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," defense attorneys Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro said in a statement.
When word of the dismissal came, Baldwin was at Yellowstone Film Ranch on the set of a rebooted “Rust” production. Preparations for filming were underway Thursday at its new location in Montana, 18 months after the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins shut it down, a representative for Rust Movie Productions said.
Baldwin was pointing a pistol at Hutchins during a rehearsal when it went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.
Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally and he did not pull the trigger. An FBI forensic report found the weapon could not have fired unless the trigger was pulled, however.
John Day, a Santa Fe-based criminal defense attorney who is not involved with the “Rust” case, highlighted the arrival of a new prosecution team in late March and suggested it may have been a factor in the decision to dismiss the charge.
“This is very different from what the original prosecutor said,” he noted. “It does raise the question of initially the Santa Fe district attorney saying, 'We’re holding Alec Baldwin responsible in part because of the role as CEO of the production and (that) it was a very sloppy production' — does this mean that the new prosecutors have a different point of view?”
Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys said they fully expect her to be exonerated in the judicial process.
“The truth about what happened will come out and the questions that we have long sought answers for will be answered,” the lawyers, Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion, said in a statement.
The case against Baldwin had already been diminishing. A weapons charge that would have meant a much longer sentence was dismissed, and the first special prosecutor appointed in the case resigned.
The A-list actor's 40-year career has included the early blockbuster “The Hunt for Red October” and a starring role in the sitcom “30 Rock,” as well as iconic appearances in Martin Scorsese’s “The Departed” and a film adaptation of David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In recent years he was known for his impression of former President Donald Trump on “Saturday Night Live."
The 65-year-old has worked little since the shooting but hardly went into hiding. He stayed active on social media, making Instagram videos and posting podcast interviews and pictures of his wife and seven children.
“Rust” safety coordinator and assistant director David Halls pleaded no contest in March to a conviction for unsafe handling of a firearm and a suspended sentence of six months of probation.
Plans to resume filming were outlined last year by the cinematographer's widower, Matthew Hutchins, in a proposed settlement to a wrongful death lawsuit that would make him an executive producer. Souza has said he will return to directing “Rust” to honor the legacy of Halyna Hutchins.
Despite the settlement, attorneys for the Hutchins family said they welcomed the criminal charges against Baldwin when they were filed. They had no immediate comment on the pending dismissal Thursday.
After a scathing safety review by regulators in New Mexico that detailed ignored complaints and misfires before Hutchins' death in October 2021, the production company agreed to pay a $100,000 fine.
Baldwin has not traveled to New Mexico to appear in court, which is not required of him under state law. Evidentiary hearings had been scheduled for next month to determine whether to proceed toward trial.
Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies had said previously that her office is pursuing justice in the death of Hutchins and wants to show no one is above the law when it comes to firearms and public safety. She says the Ukrainian-born cinematographer’s death was tragic and preventable.
Dalton reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writer Susan Montoya Bryan in Albuquerque, New Mexico, contributed.