Prosecutors will need a mountain of evidence to cast Alec Baldwin as a criminally negligent gunman, skeptical defense criminal lawyers said Friday, as Hollywood appeared to rally around the oft-polarizing actor.
Baldwin and "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed will both be accused of involuntary manslaughter in connection to the on-set killing of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said Thursday.
Both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed have denied wrongdoing and vowed to fight the charges.
Baldwin has maintained he didn't fire the shot that killed Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021, on the New Mexico set of the western movie.
But prosecutors insist they have FBI lab reports that show Baldwin did fire the fatal round.
"There is more than enough evidence to charge this case. If I were sitting as the DA and the FBI came back to me and said you had to use force to press the trigger of the weapon (to fire) then I too would have likely charged the case," said University of New Mexico law professor Joshua Kastenberg, a former lawyer and judge in the U.S. Air Force.
“But I will say this: It is really hard to prove a case like this.”
Carmack-Altwies and special prosecutor Andrea Reeb both said Thursday that they don't know how a live round ended up in the gun and will likely never know the source.
"There's no way this jury is not going to lay some kind of responsibility on the state: 'Wait a minute, you want me to lay responsibility on an actor (Baldwin) but you can't even tell me how the live round got there?' " Albuquerque-based criminal defense lawyer Ahmad Assed said.
"Is there some intentional act that placed that live round there that we know nothing about? The state hasn't cleared up that issue."
Prosecutors have called questions about the bullet's origin as a "red herring" and pinned Hutchins' death on the defendants' alleged criminal negligence for failing to check the weapon.
"But if I’m arguing in closing, I say, 'Members of the jury, the DA doesn’t even know how this gun accidentally became a dangerous gun,'" NBC legal analyst Danny Cevallos said.
"'They don’t know who is responsible for putting a live round on the set. Isn’t that the real bad guy?'"
Baldwin’s attorney, Luke Nikas, has said that the actor “had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
An attorney for Gutierrez-Reed also vowed to prove his client isn’t culpable.
“She did not commit involuntary manslaughter,” Jason Bowles said in a statement. “These charges are the result of a very flawed investigation, and an inaccurate understanding of the full facts. We intend to bring the full truth to light and believe Hannah will be exonerated of wrongdoing by a jury.”
Veteran actor and "Rust" co-star Frances Fisher said Friday she believes the wrong people are being charged.
She urged prosecutors to stop "blaming the victim" and rhetorically asked "how about investigating who put the live round into the gun?"
"Nobody is asking who put the live round into the prop gun," tweeted Fisher, best known for her role in "Titanic." "That is the question. Everything else is blame and scapegoating."
Hutchins' death has raised questions about the use of firearms on the sets of TV shows and movies.
But Los Angeles firearms instructor Scott Reitz, who also works as a gun consultant to movie and TV productions, insisted proper protocols are well-known and followed in Hollywood.
"He's (Baldwin) relying on professionals who are telling him, 'You're good to go.' The protocols are there, they just need to be followed," said Reitz, a University of New Mexico alum and former LAPD SWAT officer.
"An actor is relying on professional people who are handling the weapon and trusting that it'll be in the condition you wish it to be. He's an actor, he's simply an actor."
Baldwin also has the unwavering support of SAG-AFTRA, the union that represents actors.
“The prosecutor’s contention that an actor has a duty to ensure the functional and mechanical operation of a firearm on a production set is wrong and uninformed," according to a union statement. "An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert."
Despite this week's announcement of criminal charges, production of "Rust" will continue at some point with Joel Souza in the director's chair, said attorney Melina Spadone, who represents Rust Movie Productions LLC
Souza was wounded but not killed in the Oct. 21, 2021 gunfire.
"Rust" is "on track to be completed with Mr. Baldwin in the lead role and Joel Souza" as director, the attorney said.
Spadone added that "live ammunition is — and always was — prohibited."
There's no time frame or new location selected yet for "Rust" shooting. Locations outside Los Angeles are being considered.