The accidental shooting on the set of the movie “Rust” has dominated headlines since the incident occurred Thursday.
One name has been attached to the story more than any other: Alec Baldwin.
The 63-year-old Oscar nominee was rehearsing a scene for the Western film when he accidentally discharged a prop gun, resulting in the death of crew member Halyna Hutchins. Director Joel Souza was wounded but has since been released from a hospital.
Authorities have since launched an investigation into the incident, with which Baldwin has said he is cooperating “fully.”
Details of the investigation are sparse and as rumors swirl, many are wondering whether Baldwin could end up being charged with a crime over the incident.
‘Level of culpability’
Fox News spoke about the incident with Chicago-based attorney Andrew Stoltmann, who said the shooting could “absolutely” lead to criminal charges against the “Beetlejuice” star.
Actor Alec Baldwin accidental discharged a gun on the set of the upcoming movie ‘Rust’ that resulted in the death of a crew member. (Getty Images)
“He needs to start thinking like a potential defendant instead of just somebody who made a tragic mistake,” the attorney warned. “There are crimes that cover this sort of situation depending on his level of culpability.”
“He needs to start thinking like a potential defendant instead of just somebody who made a tragic mistake.”
— Andrew Stoltmann, Chicago attorney
Andrew Stoltmann, Chicago attorney. (Stoltmann Law photo)
Not much is currently known about the incident, including whether Baldwin himself had any level of responsibility to test or otherwise inspect the firearm, making it hard to pin down any potential charges the star could face.
“There are literally about a hundred different issues that would need to be resolved, but there is something called negligent homicide,” Stoltmann explained. “I’m certainly not saying he’s going to be charged, but what I am saying is anytime somebody shoots another human being – even on accident, even in self-defense – the police and eventually prosecutors look very, very carefully at what happened.”
“Anytime somebody shoots another human being – even on accident, even in self-defense – the police and eventually prosecutors look very, very carefully at what happened.”
— Andrew Stoltmann, Chicago attorney
Many are also questioning whether the movie’s props team potentially bears some responsibility, though Stoltmann said that “further decisions with respect to any criminal liability would be made at another time” after Baldwin has been investigated.
“If somebody just handed [Baldwin] the gun and said, ‘This is a prop gun,’ then obviously he has no criminal liability,” the attorney continued. “But the $64,000 question is: What role did he have with respect to preparing this gun? Were there any testing processes or procedures that he skipped or didn’t partake in? At this point, of course, it’s just too early to say since we don’t know answers to questions like that.”
Movie’s props department eyed
Christopher Melcher, of California‘s Walzer Melcher, told Fox News that the props department – or whoever is in charge of it – “bears most of the blame.”
Director of photography Halyna Hutchins, left, was killed in Thursday’s incident in New Mexico while director Joel Souza was wounded. He has since left the hospital. (Getty Images)
He said the props team would know whether any firearms on a movie set “present a danger” to those nearby because of other incidents of actors being killed or injured by prop guns, not to mention “common sense.”
“The prop master would know that this is dangerous and would have to take extreme precautions to make sure that the gun was handled correctly, that the actor was instructed how to use it, to verify that there weren’t bullets in the gun – that they were blanks, to make sure that there was a safe distance between the actor and [anyone] who was anywhere near the gun,” he explained.
“All of those precautions would be drilled into the actor, anyone handling the gun. They would go through these procedures backward and forwards each time,” Melcher continued. “The failure to do so would certainly lead to a civil suit for money damages by anyone injured here and then also the possible criminal prosecution for being so reckless to allow it.”
“The prop master would know that this is dangerous and would have to take extreme precautions to make sure that the gun was handled correctly, that the actor was instructed how to use it.”
— Christopher Melcher, Walzer Melcher firm of California
He also pointed out that the murky details make it difficult to pin down how the potential case could be tried and subsequently unfold.
“If [the indcient] was during the filming of a scene, the prop master would know exactly how that scene was set up, where everyone was standing, the distances that needed to be there … ,” the lawyer explained. “The failure to do so would be so reckless that this is not an accident, it’s not a mistake. It’s something beyond that because it’s so foreseeable to someone who knows about firearms that this is deadly.”
911 audio from Thursday’s incident in New Mexico confirmed the ‘Rust’ shooting occurred during a rehearsal. (NEWS NATION via KRQE)
Melcher said “there could be a criminal prosecution of the prop master if the gun was fired during a scene.”
The 911 audio from the incident confirms the gun was discharged during a rehearsal, which are generally used to examine different camera angles and practice dialogue, any choreography and use of props – raising the question of why Hutchins and Souza were in the line of fire rather than watching from the sidelines.
Furthermore, Melcher said, if Baldwin was using the gun as instructed, he has “no liability” for the incident, but if he was handed the gun without verifying whether it was loaded, that “would be reckless” and would potentially make Baldwin “responsible,.”
Any proof that Baldwin was “playing around” with the firearm also could potentially get him in legal trouble, the attorney said.
The case will likely move slowly, Stoltmann said, predicting that because it’s so high-profile, it could take “at least two months, if not longer” before any progress is seen.