Alec Baldwin’s defense attorneys and prosecutors will both have persuasive arguments in the fatal “Rust” shooting case if it goes to trial, according to lawyer James Brosnahan.
Last month, the 64-year-old actor and film armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were charged by New Mexico prosecutors with involuntary manslaughter in the 2021 death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Hutchins, 42, was killed by a live round from a gun that Baldwin was holding while rehearsing a scene for the Western movie.
Comparisons have been made between the “Rust” shooting and another high-profile on-set tragedy in which 28-year-old actor Brandon Lee was killed by a dummy round from a prop gun while filming a scene for the 1994 fantasy film “The Crow.”
Brosnahan, who represented the film’s production company and convinced North Carolina district attorneys not to bring a criminal case against his clients, shared his thoughts on the “Rust” charges with Fox News Digital.
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“My reaction to the case is that there’s strong arguments probably on both sides,” Brosnahan said.
Alec Baldwin’s attorneys and the prosecutors both have "strong arguments" in the "Rust" shooting case, according to renown attorney James Brosnahan.
He continued, “Somebody died. That’s important. Certainly the jury will hear all about that.”
“And on the other hand I have no doubt that Alec Baldwin was handed a gun that he was sure had blanks in it. And the other thing is they do this all the time. They’re always handed guns that have blanks in them. And that’s a pretty good argument.”
“In the Brandon Lee case, I was able to convince the D.A. in Wilmington, North Carolina not to indict,” Brosnahan added. “And I think part of it was the fact that these are supposed to be blanks, and when they’re not, it’s very rare. And he thought, I think it was a sad, sad case, which of course it is.”
Brosnahan reflected on the similarities between the two incidents, noting that actors use guns that they assume are loaded with blanks while filming scenes on movie sets.
“I think Alec Baldwin could, could justifiably think that he’s been handed a gun with blanks in it in that context,” Brosnahan said.
Comparisons have been made between the "Rust" shooting and another high-profile on-set tragedy in which 28-year-old actor Brandon Lee was killed by a dummy round from a prop gun while filming a scene for the 1994 fantasy film "The Crow." Brosnahan represented the film’s production company and convinced North Carolina district attorneys not to bring a criminal case against his clients.
“Sadly, it went off, and it killed someone,” he continued. “It was terrible. In our case, that’s exactly what happened. There were three bad guys in an apartment. Brandon Lee’s character had gone to the store. He came back, he walked through the door and one of the bad guys shot at him and to everybody’s horror hit Brandon Lee. And it happened, it didn’t have to be this way, but as it happened, it hit a vital organ, and he was probably dead by the time he hit the floor.”
Brosnahan added, “So the argument for the defense, I think, the one that I assume will be made is he had every reason to believe he was handed a gun with blanks in it and had no intention to hurting anybody. But even beyond that, if they charge him with gross negligence, and gross, as you know is really, really bad negligence, it’s more than a civil case. But it wasn’t up to him. He’s handed the gun and then this sad thing happened.”
Brosnahan recalled that the death of Brandon Lee in 1993 prompted a lot of discussion around safety on film sets to ensure that a similar tragedy would not occur again.
“At that time, there were formulations of rules for safety and things of that kind, which may play a part in this case,” he said. “The prosecution may want to show that there are these rules about what you’re supposed to do.”
The revolver in Lee’s case was loaded with blanks, but it was later determined that a fragment of a dummy bullet became embedded in the barrel without anyone on set realizing. When fired, it hit Lee with the force of a real bullet.
In the “Rust” shooting, the gun was loaded with a live round. Investigators later discovered other real bullets mixed in with dummy rounds on the set in Bonanza City, New Mexico.
Last month, the 64-year-old actor and film armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed were charged by New Mexico prosecutors with involuntary manslaughter in the 2021 death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
(Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office)
According to Brosnahan, the prosecution will likely argue that Baldwin should have checked the gun beforehand
“I don’t know that there’s a rule that he’s supposed to be checking,” he said. “Others are supposed to be checking, but I don’t know if the actor is supposed to do it. He can assume that he’s been handed a, a gun that’s fine and filled with blanks.”
The question of how much responsibility an actor bears while handling weapons on set is being hotly debated in the industry and will likely be central to the jury’s deliberations if Baldwin’s case goes to trial.
After the charges were announced, Baldwin’s attorney called it a “terrible miscarriage of justice” and argued that his client “relied on the professionals with whom he worked” to ensure that the set was safe.
“This decision distorts Halyna Hutchins’ tragic death and represents a terrible miscarriage of justice,” Luke Nikas of Quinn Emanuel said in a statement to Fox News Digital.
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“Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set. He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”
The Screen Actors Guild – American Federation of Television and Radio Artists also defended Baldwin over the charges. “An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert,” SAG-AFTRA said in a statement.
“Firearms are provided for their use under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm.”
Academy Award-nominated actor Mickey Rourke also slammed the charges against Baldwin, saying that there was “no way in hell” that he should be blamed for the tragedy.
Hutchins, 42, was killed by a live round from a gun that Baldwin was holding while rehearsing a scene for the Western movie.
(Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi LLP)
Brosnahan told Fox News Digital that he believes the New Mexico prosecutors will have a hard time securing a conviction for Baldwin.
“I was a federal prosecutor for five years. I don’t think I would bring these charges,” he said.
He continued, “It may be that the statement was made a little early. I think they will indict him now that they’ve declared that they’re going to indict him. But I agree with the [SAG-AFTRA] statement as a matter of fact. And, you know, who’s going to think about that a lot? It’s the jury.”
“I tried a case in New Mexico, they have very good jurors there. They’ll be very conscientious. They’ll be aware that if they convict him, his career will be pretty much over. And that’s a heavy thing for a jury to think about. They’ve got to be pretty sure, well, they have to be beyond a reasonable doubt, but beyond that, to find him guilty is going to be somewhat difficult.”
“So I agree with the guild’s statement. I don’t think the actor is in charge of it.”
Brosnahan added that he had no comment about anyone else involved with security on the “Rust” set but noted that actors are focusing on performing while on set.
“Brandon Lee, the actor is concentrating as he’s supposed to on his character, his part in the movie,” he said. “You know, how he’s going to do it. He was practicing pulling the gun on the vide, and so he should.”
According to Brosnahan, Baldwin’s state of mind and knowledge at the time will be big factors for a judge and jury. Brosnahan expressed his opinion it was ill-advised for the “It’s Complicated” star to discuss the case in the press.
“It’s not helpful to have him do that,” he said. “His answer probably, because I have represented people like that, is probably, ‘Well, I’m a public figure and I have to talk about things.'”
After the tragedies of "Rust" and "The Crow," Brosnahan said that he expects new safety rules and regulations will be implemented on movie sets.
(Jae C. Hong)
“No, your priority is the criminal case, and what you have to do is win the criminal case. It’s not good.”
Brosnahan told Fox News Digital that he always advises his clients in criminal cases to never speak about the case with the press or others without their lawyers present.
“I run them through a discussion about what’ll happen, what’s wrong with it, why it’s dangerous and so forth,” he noted. “And maybe his lawyer did that with him, and maybe he just feels he has to talk.”
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Brosnahan also shared his thoughts on any other advice that he would have for Baldwin.
“The heart of everything is gonna be is, ‘Does he wanna go to trial?’” he said. “And that’s his decision. You point out to him the ups and downs, but it really is a very personal decision about whether he wants to go to trial.
The attorney said that he thinks that Baldwin will ultimately decide to go to trial.
Brosnahan said that he believes prosecutors will have a hard time securing a conviction for Baldwin.
(Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office)
“I think he’s got strong arguments that will be presented by his lawyer,” he said. “And I think there’ll be a question about whether the prosecution can prove him guilty of criminal negligence beyond a reasonable doubt. And juries are very conscientious. They’re very smart because you’ve got 12 of them. And they will feel a heavy burden about convicting him for what happened in this case. I’m not saying he’ll definitely get off. I have no way of knowing that, but I do think he’s got strong arguments.”
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After the tragedies of “Rust” and”The Crow,” Brosnahan said that he expects new safety rules and regulations will be implemented on movie sets. He reiterated that Baldwin had every reason to believe that the gun he was handed was loaded with blanks and had been checked by the people who were hired to do just that.
“That’s his strong argument,” he said. “I do think that they might have new regulations about people who are checking the gun. Always. It always has to be checked, and it has to be opened, you have to look down the barrel and all those kind of things.”
“But see, that helps the defense because if they have to have these rules now, what it means is they didn’t have them before. And he didn’t violate any outstanding rules, but maybe the government has some rules that he violated, and we’ll have to see whether there are rules now or not.”
In conclusion, Brosnahan told Fox News Digital that “it’s a sad case.”
He continued, “And I think that’ll weigh on the jury. Accidents do happen. That’s the argument for Alec Baldwin’s lawyer. Accidents happen, not because somebody’s negligent, but because that’s the nature of the world.”
“And I do think that argument will be heard.”
Prosecutors laid out their case against Baldwin in specific detail in the probable cause documents released Tuesday.
“Baldwin’s deviation from known standards, practice and protocol directly caused the fatal death of Hutchins,” the documents state. According to the documents, Baldwin did not attend firearms training ahead of the filming for “Rust” and spent time “distracted” during a 30-minute session that was supposed to last for an “hour or more.”
If Baldwin is convicted of involuntary manslaughter, he could face up to 18 months in jail. However, if he is convicted of that charge plus a firearm enhancement, he could serve a mandatory sentence of five years, according to the DA’s statement.
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