What happened at the Bonanza Creek Ranch movie set in Santa Fe, New Mexico was nothing short of a tragedy. Famous trial lawyer Alan Dershowitz says it likely meets the definition of a homicide as well.
During a break in the filming of the western “Rust”, lead-actor Alec Baldwin was practicing his “cross draw”. For whatever reason, Baldwin assumed he was handling a “cold gun”. A cold gun in Hollywood terms means it was not loaded with live ammunition.
Baldwin pointed the gun at the camera and fired. It was not a cold gun. No one yet knows why, but the gun was loaded with live ammunition. Director Joel Souza was struck in the shoulder, and cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was hit in the chest.
Medics tried frantically to stop Hutchins from bleeding. But the 42-year-old Ukrainian cinematographer was pronounced dead upon arrival at the University of New Mexico Hospital. Steve Wolf is a special effects coordinator and theatrical firearms expert.
Wolf says there were at least three mistakes in play that led to the fatal shooting of Hutchins. First of all, he says they should have never been using a real gun. Secondly, despite it being a real firearm, it should not have been loaded with real bullets.
Finally, Wolf says that no one should have been standing behind the camera. Wolf went even further, insisting that the assistant director should not have been the person responsible for checking the gun before the scene. That responsibility belongs to the set armorist.
Law enforcement authorities obtained a search warrant for all camera footage and computer data of the fatal killing. This is where Dershowitz feels a homicide charge may likely emerge. It’s because of this failure to adhere to strict guidelines that Dershowitz thinks could constitute at least a negligent homicide case.
“It is likely, therefore, that the killing of Halyna Hutchins could constitute a homicide — that is, a criminal killing,” he said. “The remaining questions are who might be criminally responsible for the killing and what degree of homicide fits the evidence?”
“It seems clear that Alec Baldwin was not aware that he was firing a gun capable of expelling a lethal projectile,” Dershowitz wrote. “But his role reportedly was not limited to passively being an actor; he may have had some responsibility as one of several producers of the film. The nature of the role of producers varies from film to film, and it is unlikely that Baldwin’s role included responsibility for set safety. But some may think that it was not simply enough for him to accept the word of an assistant director about the gun’s safety, that he perhaps should have independently inspected the gun before firing it. It is unlikely, however, that such an omission would result in criminal responsibility.”
However, there may be some degree of culpability as an integral part of the directing team. Baldwin was one of several producers working on the film. Nevertheless, other individuals on the set may have had a higher degree of responsibility for the tragic death of Hutchins.
At first glance, the shooting could be defended as an accidental shooting. There would have to be a level of proof to warrant a negligence charge, or one for involuntary manslaughter. Involuntary manslaughter in New Mexico is a fourth-degree felony.
Dershowitz thinks that someone could well be held accountable for negligence. Baldwin is responsible for aiming the gun in the direction that it was aimed. He might also be proven complicit in the handling of a firearm loaded with real ammunition.
Beyond a criminal charge for homicide, any degree of negligence will trigger serious civil liability for anyone who contributed to this tragedy. Alan Dershowitz thinks someone may likely face homicide charges, and that someone could be Alec Baldwin.