Baldwin May Not Be Off the Hook in "Rust" Shooting After All

Actor Alec Baldwin speaks during the Iowa Democratic Party's Fall Gala, Monday, Nov. 27, 2017, in Des Moines, Iowa. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Five months after prosecutors dropped involuntary manslaughter charges against actor Alec Baldwin in the on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, officials have apparently reversed course and are ready to present those charges to a grand jury, raising questions about why those charges were dismissed in the first place.

At the time, prosecutors cited new evidence for their decision to drop the one criminal charge that Baldwin was facing, though they also said their “decision does not absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability and charges may be refiled.” That new evidence apparently involved the gun in question, with prosecutors questioning whether or not the pistol had been modified in any way. A report released by the special prosecutors in August, however, found that the firearm had not been subject to any modifications, nor was it likely that the gun discharged without the trigger being pulled.

At this point I have no idea how strong or weak the case against Baldwin may be, in large part because of the on-again-off-again nature of the longstanding investigation. Baldwin may very well have played an active role in Hutchins’s death, but the prosecutors’ conduct throughout the investigation has hardly left them covered in glory.

The source adds that Baldwin’s case will be brought before a grand jury in mid-November. There had been recent discussions of a plea deal, according to two sources familiar with the matter.

One of the sources tells NBC News that after further investigation, prosecutors no longer believe the gun had been modified and have found new evidence that they believe connects Baldwin to recklessness around safety standards on the set.

NBC News has reached out to the special prosecutors assigned to the case as well as Baldwin’s attorneys for comment.

This charge could carry up to 18 months in prison if convicted.

The case centers on an incident on the “Rust” film set in October 2021, in which Baldwin’s prop gun fired a live round of ammunition, killing the film’s cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and injuring director Joel Souza.

Baldwin has maintained in interviews with both ABC News and CNN that he did not pull the trigger.

“I feel that someone is responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who that is, but I know it’s not me,” Baldwin said in an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos in December 2021.

When the involuntary manslaughter charges were dropped earlier this year, prosecutors said the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. A gun analysis report commissioned by the special prosecutors released in August found that the gun had not been modified.

The film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, was also charged in January with involuntary manslaughter. In August it was announced that a new trial date had been set for Reed and has been pushed back to February 21, 2024.

It’s been nearly two years since Hutchins was killed on the set of “Rust,” and yet prosecutors are still unsure and unclear of what transpired or (at least until recently) whether or not the gun was even modified in any way? This doesn’t exactly inspire confidence in their case, especially when the unnamed sources who spoke to NBC News are already bringing up the possibility of a plea bargain.

I can understand filing charges based on new evidence, but that’s not exactly the case here. Baldwin was originally charged with involuntary manslaughter, and it’s still unclear to me why prosecutors even brought those charges if they were unsure if the gun in question had been modified. They then took the extraordinary step of dismissing those charges while they were still actively investigating Huchins’s death and examining the physical evidence. Did prosecutors jump the gun (no pun intended) in originally filing charges, did they screw up by dismissing the case against him citing new evidence when their investigation wasn’t complete, or both?

If nothing else, Baldwin’s attorneys are gonna continue to have a field day with the Keystone Kops-like performance on the part of the prosecutors. The first prosecutorial snafu came when Baldwin’s attorneys pointed out he’d been charged with a crime that wasn’t in state statute at the time of the shooting, a decision which rests on the shoulders of Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies. The D.A. then appointed state Rep. Andrea Beeb as a special prosecutor because she claimed to need additional help with such a high-profile case, but Baldwin’s attorneys complained that Beeb couldn’t serve as both a special prosecutor and a sitting legislator. Additionally, Baldwin’s legal team argued that Carmack-Altwies was required to recuse herself entirely rather than appoint a second special prosecutor to help in her case, and a judge agreed, so both the D.A. and the Beeb are no longer a part of the investigation. Instead, a brand new team of two special prosecutors was named to the investigation in March, shortly after Carmack-Altwies and Beeb were forced aside.

Those late additions were responsible for dropping the involuntary manslaughter charge in the spring of 2023, only to attempt to revive the charge in recent days. At every step of this investigation the prosecutors at the time made some inexplicable decisions that have only hurt their case, and the talk of a plea deal from unnamed sources close to the special prosecutors seems more designed to allow them a quick exit than anything else. A plea deal is probably the best available option for the prosecution, but they’ve given Baldwin’s defense team so much to work with that the actor and loathsome individual may well decide to take his chances at trial rather than cop to a plea, even if prosecutors are dangling the prospect of probation instead of a potential prison sentence.