© Reuters. Actor Alec Baldwin departs his home, as he will be charged with involuntary manslaughter for the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the movie “Rust”, in New York, U.S., January 31, 2023. REUTERS/David ‘Dee’ Delgado

By Andrew Hay

TAOS, New Mexico (Reuters) -New Mexico prosecutors have decided to drop criminal charges against actor Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Western movie “Rust” in 2021, Baldwin’s lawyers said on Thursday.

The news arrived on the same day that Baldwin and other cast members resumed filming the movie in Montana.

“We are pleased with the decision to dismiss the case against Alec Baldwin and we encourage a proper investigation into the facts and circumstances of this tragic accident,” Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro said in a statement.

Baldwin, 65, was charged in January with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in connection with Hutchins’ death and the injury of “Rust” director Joel Souza, who was struck by the same bullet that passed through Hutchins.

The actor was accused of showing a “reckless” disregard for safety in Hutchins’ death. He pleaded not guilty in February after prosecutors downgraded the seriousness of the charges, reducing the potential prison time.

Baldwin has in interviews said he was told the gun was safe and that he never pulled the trigger.

The two special prosecutors handling the case in New Mexico’s First Judicial District had no comment, their spokesperson Heather Brewer said.

New Mexico prosecutors have been beset by legal errors since they filed charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed in January. The most serious charges against the defendants were dropped in February, and two prosecutors have stepped down.

A person familiar with talks between Baldwin’s defense attorneys and special prosecutors said prosecutors are expected to drop the charges in a court filing as soon as Thursday.

New evidence showed the firearm used by Baldwin had been modified, and prosecutors could no longer prove that it required a trigger pull in order to fire, the source said.

The two sides had been discussing the charges ahead of a May 3 hearing, when a New Mexico judge was set to decide whether Baldwin should stand trial.

The shooting occurred during a rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021, when a Colt .45 revolver Baldwin was pointing toward the camera went off.

Investigators have not been able to determine how live rounds made it on set.

The first assistant director, Dave Halls, was sentenced last month to a suspended sentence after he pleaded guilty to negligent use of a deadly weapon. Prosecutors had said he was responsible for set safety.

The movie’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, also faces manslaughter charges and has pleaded not guilty.

Gutierrez-Reed has blamed the shooting on other factors including possible sabotage, Baldwin’s lack of training, and a failure by Halls and Baldwin to ask her for extra checks.

In a statement on Thursday, her lawyers, Jason Bowles and Todd Bullion, said, “We fully expect at the end of this process that Hannah will also be exonerated.”

Baldwin settled a lawsuit in October with the cinematographer’s husband, Matt Hutchins, in a deal that made Hutchins an executive producer on the movie.

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