Even if Alec Baldwin lied about trigger, case isn’t a ‘slam dunk’: expert

Even if Alec Baldwin lied about trigger, case isn’t a ‘slam dunk’: expert

The new firearms report in the deadly “Rust” shooting does more than cast doubt on Alec Baldwin’s account of the tragedy. It makes it look like the actor’s memory is either extremely faulty or that he’s been lying all along as he insisted that he didn’t pull the trigger on the gun that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

“It makes him look bad,” said Los Angles-based personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio, “Now, does it look like he’s lying? Yeah, it kind of does.”

Even still, the new report by a firearms expert may not be the “slam dunk” New Mexico prosecutors need to prove that Baldwin was criminally negligent when he handled a prop Colt .45 revolver during a scene rehearsal on the set of the Western film “Rust,” said Custodio.

“I just don’t think it’s enough to recharge Baldwin yet,” Custodio said, who has been following the legal fall-out from the shooting that killed Hutchins.

Earlier this year, prosecutors filed two counts of involuntary manslaughter against Baldwin as well as against the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed. But two special prosecutors took over the case in March, following missteps by the previous prosecutors, and quickly dismissed criminal charges against Baldwin.

Baldwin has cited two main arguments for why he should not be held legally responsible for the shooting. The first is that he relied on Gutierrez Reed to make sure the gun held no live rounds. He also said that he was advised by the assistant director, Dave Halls, that the gun was safe to use. The gun was supposed to be loaded with dummy rounds, inert cartridges used to make it appear loaded on camera, the New York Times said. But it turned out that the gun was loaded with a live round of ammunition.

Baldwin’s other main line of defense has been to say that he did not pull the trigger, notably in a 2021 interview with ABC News that took place two months after the shooting. Baldwin said he pulled, then released, the gun’s hammer because Hutchins wanted to get a close-up camera angle of the gun’s loaded barrel.

Prosecutors and many gun safety experts have been skeptical of Baldwin’s claim that he didn’t pull the trigger. An initial FBI report, issued last year, concluded that the gun’s trigger needed to have been pulled for the gun to fire.

But FBI analysts also acknowledged they damaged the gun during testing at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., to see whether the gun would misfire, the New York Times said. In court documents Baldwin’s attorneys have pointed to the broken components, suggesting the gun can’t be reliably tested at this point, the Los Angeles Times said. Sources also told the Los Angeles Times that prosecutors learned the gun had been modified before it was delivered to the “Rust” set.

When special prosecutors Kari T. Morrissey and Jason J. Lewis took over the case in March, they said they could not move forward with Baldwin’s prosecution because “new facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis.” They left open the option that new evidence could lead to charges against Baldwin being refiled.

That further investigation apparently included bringing in a respected firearms expert, Lucien C. Haag, to determine whether the gun was functional or faulty, which would have contributed to the shooting. Haag’s report didn’t address whether the gun had been modified but it concluded that the gun would have needed about two pounds of pressure on the trigger to discharge a round, the New York Times said.

“Although Alec Baldwin repeatedly denies pulling the trigger, given the tests, findings and observations reported here, the trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver,” Haag wrote in report that was submitted to the prosecutors. Haag also included photos of Baldwin handling a revolver on set earlier in the production, highlighting the way the actor’s finger was on or near the trigger as he was cocking the gun.

It’s unclear if prosecutors will use the report’s findings to bring new charges against Baldwin, the Los Angeles Times said. Custodio isn’t convinced there’s enough evidence to prove an involuntary manslaughter case against Baldwin. Under New Mexico law, a person is guilty of involuntary manslaughter if they were reckless, or if they ignored obvious risks of harm to the safety of others.

“This expert’s report does bolster the prosecution’s case a bit,” Custudio said. But he said Haag’s report also said that he had to replace the broken parts of the revolver in order to test it.

“It is problematic that he had to reconstruct the gun with new parts,” Custodio said. “Once you start tinkering with evidence like that, it’s easy for Alec Baldwin’s defense to say ‘The gun didn’t work properly to begin with and the FBI damaged it. Putting it back together again doesn’t prove anything.’ And it’s true, whenever you alter evidence you have problems.”

Custodio said that the possibility that Baldwin lied about not pulling the trigger could be used by prosecutors to challenge his credibility. But even if jurors agree that Baldwin pulled the trigger, they could still believe he did so accidentally, without any intent to hurt anyone. They also could buy Baldwin’s claim that he was told the gun was safe to use, and that he therefore didn’t know he had to be careful about pointing the gun in Hutchins’ direction.

Even with the new forensics report, prosecutors could be left with a case of battling experts, which can be difficult to win, Custudio said.

Prosecutors could call forensic experts to say that Baldwin pulled the trigger, as well as gun safety experts to say that the actor should have checked the gun himself before handling it and should have never pointed it in anyone’s direction. But the defense could call their experts to say the gun can’t be reliably tested. They could also call their film and TV industry experts to say that an actor has to be able to rely on the armourer and other crew members to make sure the gun is safe to use.

In his 2021 interview with ABC News, Baldwin insisted he believed the gun was safe to use and was only following directions when he pointed it toward the cinematographer. “Someone is ​responsible for what happened, and I can’t say who that is, but I know it’s not me,” he said.