Prosecutors downgrade Alec Baldwin manslaughter charges in 'Rust' shooting case

Alec Baldwin will face reduced charges in the accidental 2021 shooting death of "Rust" cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, New Mexico prosecutors announced Monday.

Lawyers for both Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the young armorer on the set of the Western, had argued that the two involuntary manslaughter charges brought against their clients last month were partly based on a new law that had gone into effect after the shooting.

Originally, the charges against both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed included the possibility of up to five years in jail as a result of a "firearm enhancement penalty" that went on New Mexico's legal books in 2022. 

'Rust' case:Alec Baldwin and armorer Gutierrez-Reed officially charged in death of Halyna Hutchins

In this image from video released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, Alec Baldwin gestures while talking with investigators following a fatal shooting in 2021 on a movie set in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The reduced charges are punishable by up to 18 months in jail and a $5,000 fine. Involuntary manslaughter is a charge brought when unintentional negligence results in the death of an individual.

"In order to avoid further litigious distractions by Mr. Baldwin and his attorneys, the District Attorney and the special prosecutor have removed the firearm enhancement," Heather Brewer, spokesperson for the New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney, said in a statement to USA TODAY Monday. "The prosecution's priority is securing justice, not securing billable hours for big-city attorneys.”

Jason Bowles, a lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed, maintained that his client would be exonerated, noting that she repeatedly raised safety concerns on the set.

“We applaud the decision of the District Attorney to dismiss the firearm enhancement and it was the right call, ethically, and on the merits," he said in a statement.

A representative for Luke Nikas, an attorney for Baldwin, declined to comment on the reduced charges.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, was killed in a shooting on the set of the movie "Rust."

Hutchins died on Oct. 21, 2021, during a rehearsal when a prop gun inexplicably loaded with a real bullet discharged as Baldwin pointed it at the camera, where Hutchins was seated. The shooting, which took place on a Western-themed movie ranch near Santa Fe, also injured the film's director Joel Souza.

Production immediately ceased, but it is set to resume soon with Hutchins' widower, Matthew, now serving as one of the film's producers.

Next up is the court case is a preliminary hearing, which typically is set for within 60 days of charges being filed. At the hearing, a judge will play the role of a grand jury since New Mexico is impaneling grand juries under certain circumstances due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The district attorney and the special prosecutor present their case to the judge, who will rule whether there is probable cause to move forward with a trial.

Gutierrez-Reed is scheduled to appear in court virtually for the first time Friday. It is unclear if Baldwin will be participating, said Brewer, the prosecutor office's spokesperson.

Various civil suits have already been filed in the case. A suit brought against Baldwin by Matthew Hutchins was settled. More recently, charges were filed against Baldwin and "Rust" producers by Hutchins' mother, father and sister.

Attorney Gloria Allred said the lawsuit, filed in Los Angeles County Superior Court, was aimed at recovering compensation for the three family members, all of whom are in war-torn Ukraine, who relied on Hutchins for financial support.

The family is "devastated by the shocking killing" of Hutchins and believes "anyone responsible for her loss must be held accountable," Allred said during a Feb. 9 press conference. "They won't be able to enjoy life in same way. Halyna was the light in their lives."

The latest in the 'Rust' shooting case