Charges have been dropped against Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of his Western movie "Rust" after "new facts" surfaced in recent days, officials said Thursday.
The announcement came 2 ½ months after New Mexico prosecutors filed involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin.
In a statement, the special prosecutors appointed by New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies to handle the case said the new facts were revealed as authorities prepared for a May 3 preliminary hearing.
The statement, from Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis, does not say what those facts are but says they require additional investigation and forensic analysis.
"Consequently, we cannot proceed under the current time constraints and on the facts and evidence turned over by law enforcement in its existing form," the prosecutors said. "We therefore will be dismissing the involuntary manslaughter charges against Mr. Baldwin to conduct further investigation."
The prosecutors added that decision does not "absolve Mr. Baldwin of criminal culpability." Charges may be refiled, they said.
The charges against Baldwin’s co-defendant, “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, remain unchanged, the prosecutors said.
The Los Angeles Times and Wall Street Journal reported the new information in the case was that the prop gun used in the deadly shooting had been modified. A source close to the investigation confirmed that reporting to NBC News.
Baldwin has said that he did not pull the trigger.
Baldwin's lawyers, Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro, applauded the decision and said in a joint statement that they "encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident.”
Lawyers for Gutierrez-Reed said the special prosecutors had undertaken a diligent and thorough approach to the entire investigation, which we welcome and have always welcomed."
“They are seeking the truth and we are also," attorneys Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion said in a statement. "The truth about what happened will come out and the questions that we have long sought answers for will be answered. We fully expect at the end of this process that Hannah will also be exonerated.”
University of New Mexico law professor Joshua Kastenberg, a former lawyer and judge in the Air Force who had questioned the strength of the DA's case, said he was still surprised by the sudden turn of events Thursday.
"What probably shocked me the most is that I just feel badly for the family of the woman who died," Kastenberg said.
"I'm sure it's difficult for them to handle" the decision not to prosecute Baldwin, he said. "Nothing was ever going to bring their kid back, so I'm sure there's a lot of frustrations there."
Hutchins, 42, was shot and killed Oct. 21, 2021, during filming at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in New Mexico.
Baldwin was rehearsing with a pistol for a scene when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.
The case appeared to be fraught from the start, when special prosecutor Andrea Reeb was forced to resign amid defense claims that she had a conflict of interest.
Reeb is also a New Mexico state representative, and her work for the DA would mean she occupies two separate lanes of government that should be separated, Baldwin's team said.
The district attorney is "considered to be a member of either the judicial or executive branch of the New Mexico government,” Baldwin's legal team said in a filing.
And legal analysts said the state was always going to have a difficult burden to prove Hutchins' death was anything more than a tragic accident.
Blaming Baldwin — as both the person with the gun in his hand and the producer allegedly in charge for everything on set — was always going to be difficult burden for prosecutors, said Los Angeles-based personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio.
“They may also have come to a realization that they perhaps were trying to hold Baldwin to higher degrees of responsibility because he also was a producer, but that’s also a tenuous link," Custodio said.
"Were they charging Baldwin solely on his role as the actor who fired the killing shot, or as a producer whose safety protocols were in shambles?"
The New Mexico prosecutor's decision Thursday brought huge sighs of relief throughout Hollywood, where everyone on set feared they could be held responsible for the next accident, said L.A.-based entertainment and corporate attorney Tre Lovell.
"The dropping of criminal charges against Alec Baldwin is a huge weight off of the entertainment industry’s shoulders," Lovell said.
"The Baldwin prosecution would have created precedence to hold actors and production personnel unrelated to set safety criminally responsible for accidents on set, which would have turned the world of movie-making upside down. Collective bargaining agreements, set safety procedures, exclusive reliance on safety experts, among other things, would have changed, and not for the better.”
Filming on "Rust" resumed Thursday at Yellowstone Ranch in Montana. The movie is expected to need at least 20 more days of filming, and Baldwin was on the set Thursday, sources close to the production said.
The movie's plot centers on a 13-year-old boy left to fend for himself and his younger brother after their parents’ deaths in 1880s Kansas.
The youngsters go on the run with their long-estranged grandfather Harland Rust, played by Baldwin, after he’s sentenced to hang for the accidental killing of a local rancher.