Judge considers Baldwin motion to dismiss, says she'll rule next week

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May 17—A state judge said she'll decide next week whether to dismiss an involuntary manslaughter charge against actor Alec Baldwin after hearing his attorneys argue the grand jury proceedings that led to the charge were improper.

At Friday's hearing before District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer, defense attorneys Alex Spiro and Luke Nikas took turns arguing positions they'd laid out in a February motion and subsequent filings accusing special prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis of intentionally failing to present evidence favorable to Baldwin to the grand jury that indicted him.

Lewis is no longer on the case.

Baldwin faces the charge in connection with the October 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was struck by a bullet discharged from the revolver Baldwin wielded during a walk-through of a scene on the set of the Rust film production near Santa Fe. The same bullet injured film director Joel Souza.

Baldwin, who was also a producer on the project, has said he didn't pull the trigger and pleaded not guilty to the fourth-degree felony charge, which carries a penalty of up to 18 months in prison. He is scheduled to stand trial in Santa Fe starting July 9.

The prosecutors steered jurors' questions about such evidence to the state's witnesses instead of calling witnesses identified by the defense, Baldwin's attorneys said at Friday's hearing.

The prosecutors didn't bother to arrange for Baldwin's witnesses to be available during the proceeding in case jurors wanted to hear from them, the attorneys said, despite an order to do so from state District Judge T. Glenn Ellington, who presided over the grand jury.

"From my position, the fix was in," said Spiro, who described the case as one arising out of an accident "at the outskirts, the very outskirts of criminal law."

Prosecutors didn't want the grand jury to hear testimony that would have been favorable to Baldwin's defense, Spiro said.

"They never intended for the grand jury to ask for witnesses," he said. "They never wanted the grand jury to ask for exhibits. And so not by deed, not by word, not by spirit, they did not comply with the court's order or the law."

Morrissey interrupted jurors and deflected their questions about salient points at least 20 times during the grand jury proceeding, according to Baldwin's attorneys.

Morrissey disputed the allegations, saying she went "above and beyond" during the proceeding.

"We presented this grand jury with lots and lots of exculpatory information," Morrissey said.

In instances in which she redirected jurors' questions, Morrissey said, she did so only in an attempt to make sure they got accurate and reliable responses.

And while she didn't gather the defense's witnesses for the proceeding, she said, she was confident she could have arranged for them to testify quickly if jurors had asked to hear from them.

Three boxes of the defense's documents were in the room during the proceeding, and she let the jurors know they were readily available for review, the prosecutor said, adding, "I didn't hide any information from the grand jury."

The film's former armorer, also charged with involuntary manslaughter, inadvertently brought live ammunition onto the set and loaded a live bullet — rather than a dummy round — into Baldwin's revolver, according to evidence presented at her trial earlier this year. The armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who was tasked with overseeing all firearms and ammunition on the set, was convicted and sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Prosecutors assert Baldwin also had a duty to check the ammunition in the weapon and treat it as if it were loaded — which meant not pointing it at anyone.

The defense attorneys noted a state expert on film set firearms told the grand jury the actor had a responsibility to make sure the ammunition in the gun was not live. Two weeks later, the same witness testified in Gutierrez-Reed's trial, saying "actors sometimes view the safety checks, but that's for a warm and fuzzy feeling ... that's rare." The expert suggested if an actor didn't want to check the ammunition, it was OK as long as the armorer had done so.

"We do not think, as an officer of the court, a lawyer should be able to argue one theory to the grand jury and then in a related case turn around and argue an opposite theory to obtain a guilty verdict," Nikas said.

Sommer questioned Morrissey for about an hour, in part about the effort she put into making defense witnesses available to the grand jury and making jurors aware they could ask to hear from them.

"You said, 'We've got the boxes here,' but you didn't mention the witnesses," the judge said. "What would have been the harm in just saying, 'You know what, I could get them here if you need them,' or something to that effect, just to make them a little more schooled?"

Sommer added, "Do you stand by that it's not your duty, basically?"

Morrissey said case law doesn't require her to do that, but she also believed at the time it wasn't necessary because the jurors had received fresh written instructions that day.

"I had no reason ... to believe that they were confused about whether or not they could ask to hear from any of these witnesses," she said.

Sommer said she'll issue a written order next week.

Rust assistant director David Halls also was charged in connection with Hutchins' death.

Halls pleaded no contest in 2023 to negligent use of a deadly weapon and was sentenced to six months of probation for his part in the tragic incident. He testified during Gutierrez-Reed's jury trial in February, saying he'd failed to properly examine the gun prior to the scene.

Gutierrez-Reed's attorney recently filed motions indicating she intends to appeal her conviction and asking that she be released from prison pending the appeal.

The motions argue she is not a flight risk or danger to the community and might serve her entire sentence by the time her appeal is heard, "rendering a large part of the appeal meaningless."