Alec Baldwin prosecution ‘on its heels’ after DA leaves ‘Rust’ case, experts say

Mary Carmack-Altwies, First Judicial District Atty in New Mexico.
New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies.
(Kate Russell)
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New Mexico’s district attorney overseeing the “Rust” shooting criminal prosecution of Alec Baldwin has stepped down, dealing another blow to the state’s efforts to hold the actor and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed accountable for the fatal shooting on the western movie set.

On Wednesday, 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies announced that she had handed Baldwin’s and Gutierrez Reed’s felony prosecutions over to two seasoned Albuquerque attorneys. Carmack-Altwies said the pair — Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis — would replace her as special prosecutors in the “Rust” criminal case.

“This [resignation] gives the appearance that the prosecution does not have confidence in the case,” John P. Fishwick Jr., a former U.S. attorney in Virginia, said in an interview.


The stunning twist comes after a series of missteps by prosecutors.

Carmack-Altwies is the second key prosecutor to exit the case that began in October 2021 after Baldwin accidentally shot cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust,” which was filming near Santa Fe, N.M.

During a rehearsal in a wooden church, Baldwin pulled a replica of a vintage revolver from his holster and aimed it at Hutchins, who was lining up camera angles to look down the gun’s barrel. The weapon then discharged a lead bullet that traveled through Hutchins’ chest before lodging in the shoulder of the movie’s director, Joel Souza.

In late January, Carmack-Altwies charged Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed with involuntary manslaughter in the death of Hutchins. Both Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed have pleaded not guilty.

The previous special prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, resigned earlier this month amid controversy over her dual role as a member of the prosecution and the New Mexico Legislature.

Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed have been charged with involuntary manslaughter. Lead prosecutor tells the judge her office is “in dire straits” as it tries to prepare its case.

March 27, 2023

Reeb, a veteran district attorney from rural New Mexico, joined the prosecution last summer amid her campaign for public office.

In a then-private email last June, Reeb asked Carmack-Altwies to publicize Reeb’s role in the Baldwin case, joking “it might help in my campaign lol,” according to Baldwin’s court filings.


Baldwin’s attorneys had argued the Republican lawmaker’s involvement in the case was politically motivated, which Reeb strenuously denied. Baldwin, who famously lampooned former President Trump on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live,” is reviled in some conservative circles.

Prosecutors were also embarrassed this year after initially adding “firearms enhancement” penalties against Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed, which the state said would bring a mandatory five-year prison sentence with a conviction.

But Baldwin’s attorneys pounced, pointing out that the five-year firearms enhancement charge was not on the books in New Mexico until 2022 — several months after the shooting occurred. Prosecutors quickly withdrew the firearms enhancement charge.

If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed face 18-month sentences.

Baldwin, through a representative, declined to comment.

“The New Mexico DA is on its heels,” said trial attorney and former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani, who is not involved in the case.

“I’ve never seen a prosecution botch a case so much before we’ve even gotten to the preliminary hearing,” Rahmani said. “There’s so many mistakes: waiting 15 months to charge it; overcharging it; charging a constitutionally invalid enhancement.”


The decision is the latest blow to the case brought by New Mexico against Alec Baldwin for the 2021 accidental shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust.”

March 14, 2023

The prosecution suffered a setback last fall when Hutchins’ widower, Matthew Hutchins, settled his wrongful death civil case against Baldwin and the other “Rust” producers. Hutchins called the tragedy “a terrible accident,” and he joined the film project as an executive producer.

Hutchins and other “Rust” producers plan to resume filming of the low-budget western later this year in Montana.

The embattled prosecutor had faced a Friday deadline to come up with a plan after Gutierrez Reed’s attorneys, Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion, last week challenged Carmack-Altwies’ efforts to appoint a special prosecutor and also stay involved in the prosecution.

In a virtual court hearing on Monday, Carmack-Altwies told the judge that her office — like others around New Mexico — is facing a crisis in lawyer turnover. She told the judge her small office was in “dire straits,” trying to juggle the demands of the Baldwin case as well as their routine workload.

But Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer indicated that she planned to deny Carmack-Altwies’ request to work in collaboration with a new special prosecutor.

On Wednesday, Carmack-Altwies’ spokesperson positioned the district attorney’s exit as an effort to spend more time running her office, including prosecuting drunken drivers and securing convictions of other defendants.


“My responsibility to the people of the First Judicial District is greater than any one case, which is why I have chosen to appoint a special prosecutor in the ‘Rust’ case,” Carmack-Altwies said in a statement. “Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis will unflinchingly pursue justice in the death of Halyna Hutchins on behalf of the people of First Judicial District.”

The two attorneys took an oath of office and were sworn in by the judge Wednesday afternoon, according to Barry Massey, spokesman for New Mexico’s Administrative Office of the Courts.

“The case may be salvageable if this new team can get up and running,” said Fishwick, who noted that it was highly unusual for a D.A. to release such a high-profile case.

“I’ve never seen a situation where a public prosecutor says, ‘We’ve brought this case, but now we’re too busy, and we can’t handle it,’” he said.

Former Los Angeles prosecutor Joshua Ritter observed: “There have been continued missteps and unforced errors of their own making.”

“Any one of these [issues] might not have been a big deal, but in a case with such public scrutiny, and in a case that you’re bringing under a very suspect theory of criminal liability to begin with, they seem to be stumbling every step of the way,” Ritter said.


Joshua Kastenberg, a law professor at the University of New Mexico, said “mistakes happen,” and Wednesday’s development might bring benefits.

“There shouldn’t be a problem with these two attorneys picking up the case,” Kastenberg said. “They have run a successful law practice, and maybe this will depoliticize the trial because they are not running for office.”

Carmack-Altwies is up for reelection next year.

There were miscues even before Carmack-Altwies’ office received the case last fall. It took Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies more than a year to complete their criminal investigation, and despite the lengthy look, investigators failed to determine how live bullets ended up on a movie set — a serious breach of film protocols.

Deputies did not search the prop truck, where the guns and ammunition was stored, until a week after the accident, according to Santa Fe County law enforcement records.

And for nearly an hour after the shooting, crew members mingled around Baldwin, discussing theories of how actual bullets found their way into the prop gun instead of so-called dummies. Some of those same crew members are now witnesses in the state’s case, and at least two have filed civil lawsuits against Baldwin and other producers.

Other state agencies also have come away with less than they had hoped.

In February, New Mexico Environment Department’s Occupational Health and Safety Bureau agreed to settle an administrative action against Rust Movie Productions LLC, the company behind the troubled western — for a smaller penalty than first sought.


The bureau agreed to downgrade its citation leveled against the production and reduce the penalty for alleged workplace safety violations to $100,000 from the maximum fine of $136,793. New Mexico’s OSHA had said the film’s managers “demonstrated plain indifference” to employee safety. The producers denied any wrongdoing.