LOS ANGELES (CNS) - With prosecutors citing "new facts" that left them unable to immediately proceed with the case, criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin stemming from the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of the film "Rust" have been dropped, authorities said Thursday.
Baldwin, 64, had been charged along with the film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, with involuntary manslaughter and involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act stemming from the Oct. 21, 2021 shooting of Hutchins with a prop gun wielded by Baldwin. Both pleaded not guilty.
But in a statement issued Thursday, New Mexico special prosecutors Kari T. Morrissey and Jason J. Lewis said they were not currently able to move forward with the criminal case against Baldwin.
"Over the last few days and in preparation for the May 3, 2023, preliminary hearing, new facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis in the case against (Baldwin)," according to the prosecutors. "Consequently, we cannot proceed under the current time constraints and on the facts and evidence turned over by law enforcement in its existing form.
"We therefore will be dismissing the involuntary manslaughter charges against Mr. Baldwin to conduct further investigation. This decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may re-filed. Our follow-up investigation will remain active and ongoing."
The prosecutors did not provide any specifics about the "new facts."
Sources told the Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal that the case against Baldwin was weakened by evidence showing that the gun the actor was holding had been modified, making it possible to misfire without the trigger being pulled. Baldwin has maintained that he never pulled the trigger on the weapon.
Baldwin's attorneys, Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro, issued a statement Thursday morning saying, "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."
The criminal case against Baldwin was troubled almost from the start.
Prosecutors originally included a firearm enhancement in the charge of involuntary manslaughter in the commission of a lawful act, but New Mexico First Judicial Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies later announced that the enhancement had been dropped. The decision came after Baldwin's attorneys filed a motion challenging the validity of the enhancement, saying it was not in effect at the time of the shooting outside Santa Fe.
A representative for Carmack-Altwies said at the time the decision to drop the firearm enhancement was made "in order to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys."
A short time later, a special prosecutor who had originally been brought in to handle the case stepped down, following a challenge by Baldwin's attorneys questioning her ability to serve both as a prosecutor and a state legislator in New Mexico.
Hutchins, 42, was fatally shot with a bullet discharged from a prop weapon wielded by Baldwin, who was holding the gun while helping to set camera angles for an upcoming scene. The bullet also struck and wounded film director Joel Souza.
Baldwin, who is also a producer on the film, has insisted he was told the gun was "cold," or contained no live rounds. He has also insisted that while he pulled back the hammer on the weapon, he never pulled the trigger.
Nikas said previously Baldwin bore no responsibility in the shooting, saying he was assured the gun contained no live ammunition, and he "relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds."
Attorneys for Gutierrez-Reed have also denied that she did anything wrong, even suggesting at one point that others on the set tried to "sabotage" the production by mixing live rounds with blanks.
Attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion said in a joint statement when the charges were filed that the district attorney "has completely misunderstood the facts and has reached the wrong conclusions."
"Hannah pleaded to provide more firearms training," they said. "She was denied and brushed aside. Hannah asked to be able to perform her armorer duties more for safety reasons. She was told by production to focus on props.
"Hannah asked (assistant director David) Halls if they could us a plastic gun for the rehearsal scene and he said no, wanting a `real gun.' Hannah asked to be called back into the church if Baldwin was going to use the gun at all and Halls failed to do that. Yet the district attorney has given Halls a six-month probation misdemeanor and charged Hannah and Baldwin with felony offenses carrying at least five years in prison.
"The tragedy of this is had Hannah just been called back into the church by Halls, she would have performed the inspection and prevented this tragedy. We will fight these charges and expect that a jury will find Hannah not guilty."
Halls pleaded no contest to a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon in exchange for a suspended sentence and six months probation.
Sheriff's investigators determined that live ammunition was found on the "Rust" set, mixed with blanks that are traditionally used in film production.
Hutchins' death led to industry-wide calls for improvements in on-set safety, particularly in regard to the use of firearms.
Filming on "Rust" was suspended after the shooting, but has since resumed, with Hutchins' husband serving as a producer under the terms of a lawsuit settlement.