The ‘Rust’ Shooting Trial: What to Expect in the Case Against Alec Baldwin

The trial against actor Alec Baldwin, charged with involuntary manslaughter following a fatal on-set shooting during the filming of Rust in 2021, is scheduled for July despite ongoing legal back-and-forth between the prosecution and defense.

Baldwin’s defense team recently attempted to have the case dismissed due to damage sustained by the on-set revolver during FBI forensic testing. “We can never use our own expert to examine the original state of that firearm,” argued attorney John Bash, representing Baldwin. “It’s not fair that a criminal defendant doesn’t get that opportunity.”

However, New Mexico Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer rejected the request on June 28, stating that Baldwin’s lawyers failed to provide evidence beyond “speculation” that the gun could exonerate him. Jury selection is set to begin on July 9.

Baldwin, 66, maintains he did not pull the trigger on the prop gun he was pointing at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, which discharged, killing the 42-year-old. The incident also injured director Joel Souza in October 2021.

If convicted, Baldwin faces a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison. He could also face additional legal challenges. Civil lawsuits filed against Baldwin and other film producers have been temporarily suspended by the judge, who stated they would present the charges to a grand jury. 

Here’s a summary of the upcoming trial.

What happened

According to Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys, film armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed loaded a revolver on the Rust set with what were believed to be “dummy rounds,” containing no explosives. 

During rehearsals, Dave Halls, the film’s assistant director, retrieved a prop gun and handed it to Baldwin, labeling it a “cold gun,” indicating the absence of live rounds, according to a warrant by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office. While rehearsing a scene that required him to point the weapon at the camera, Baldwin allegedly discharged the revolver, per the warrant. The shot struck and wounded Souza in the shoulder.

Hutchins was transported to the University of New Mexico Hospital, where she later died. 

Charges against Baldwin

Santa Fe County prosecutors initially charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter for Hutchins’ death in January 2023. “After a thorough review of the evidence and the laws of the state of New Mexico, I have determined that there is sufficient evidence to file criminal charges against Alec Baldwin and other members of the ‘Rust’ film crew,” New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies stated at the time. However, prosecutors later dropped the charge in April 2023, although they indicated charges could be refiled.

Following a new analysis of the gun, Baldwin was once again charged with involuntary manslaughter after a grand jury indicted him in January 2024. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty.

During the upcoming trial, prosecutors have charged Baldwin with two counts of involuntary manslaughter, meaning the jury will decide both whether to convict him and under which definition of involuntary manslaughter his actions fall. He could be found guilty of negligent use of the firearm, or for acting with disregard for the safety of others. 

Baldwin insists that while he pulled back the hammer, the gun discharged without him pulling the trigger. 

The FBI conducted an accidental discharge test on the weapon, which involved striking the firearm with a rawhide mallet. The gun malfunctioned during the process, leading to Baldwin’s attorneys’ attempt to dismiss the case. A separate analysis of the revolver by Lucien Haag of Forensic Science Services determined that the “trigger had to be “pulled or depressed sufficiently” for the weapon to fire.  

There has been significant discussion regarding the lack of safety protocols on the Rust film set. According to reports, at least six crew members walked off set during production due to working conditions, including gun safety concerns. An New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau (OHSB) investigation found that Rust “expos[ed] employees to the serious hazards associated with firearm use.” In February 2023, Rust Movie Productions, LLC. settled with the OHSB and paid a $100,000 penalty.

Rust resumed filming in April 2023 after a wrongful death suit was settled against the production company and several other individuals involved in the film following Hutchins’ death. As part of the settlement, Matthew Hutchins, Hutchins’ husband, was appointed executive producer on set.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed 

Besides the upcoming case against Baldwin, Gutierrez-Reed was also charged with involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence. (The latter charge was filed after the defendant allegedly provided narcotics to an individual to “prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of herself,” according to an amended criminal complaint by prosecutors.) Gutierrez-Reed was convicted of involuntary manslaughter but acquitted of evidence tampering in March 2024. She was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Prosecutors aim to call her as a witness during Baldwin’s trial, although Gutierrez-Reed invoked her Fifth Amendment rights during a pretrial interview. Prosecutors have requested the court to grant her “use immunity,” ensuring that her testimony cannot be used against her in future prosecutions, .  

Her attorneys are currently seeking Gutierrez-Reed’s immediate release from prison and have requested a new trial, claiming that prosecutors failed to disclose “bombshell exculpatory evidence” that could have led to a different outcome in the case.