Alec Baldwin at the Hamptons International Film Festival on October 7, 2021.
Mark Sagliocco | Getty Images Entertainment | Getty Images
The special prosecutor in the “Rust” manslaughter trial of actor Alec Baldwin resigned Tuesday after Baldwin’s attorneys argued that the New Mexico constitution barred her from serving in that role while she was a state legislature.
It’s a major setback in the state trial against Baldwin and co-defendant Hannah Gutierrez-Reed for the accidental fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021 on the set of the film Rust.
“After much thought, I have made the difficult decision to step down as Special Prosecutor in the Rust case,” Special Prosecutor Andrea Reeb said in her surprising statement. “My priority in this case – and in every case I have pursued in my 25-year career – was justice for the victim.”
“However, it has become clear that the best way to ensure justice is served in this case is to resign so prosecutors can focus on the evidence and facts that clearly show a total disregard for basic safety protocols that are being used.” led to the death of Halyna Hutchins,” she said.
Reeb’s decision to retire came after weeks of opposition to the idea by her and the first District Attorney, Mary Carmack-Altwies, who appointed her.
“I will not allow questions about my work as a legislator and prosecutor to obscure the real issue,” Reeb said Tuesday.
Baldwin’s defense attorneys filed a motion last month asking a judge to remove Reeb from the case, arguing that the New Mexico constitution specifically prohibits people from holding a position in a branch of government while they Exercise powers of another branch.
Luke Nikas, one of Baldwin’s attorneys reached by CNBC on Tuesday, did not comment directly on Reeb’s denial, but referred to the rationale for his motion to disqualify Reeb, in which the defense argued there was “no question that the Rep. Reeb violates both plain language and the purpose of the separation of powers provision in the New Mexico Constitution by serving as both legislature and prosecutor.”
It is unclear whether Carmack-Altwies will take over the case or appoint a new special counsel. Prosecutors for the First Circuit did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.
Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed face two counts of involuntary manslaughter, both of which carry 18-month prison terms. A grand jury will determine the degree of manslaughter.
Rust’s original assistant director, David Halls, signed a plea deal to face the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, which resulted in a suspended sentence and six months’ probation.
Prosecutors had already come under fire for missteps in the indictment and handling of the case.
Reeb, who previously served as a district attorney in New Mexico’s ninth judicial district attorney’s office, originally indicted Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, the original “Rust” gunsmith, in January on so-called firearm enhancement. This led to a mandatory five-year minimum sentence if the accused were convicted.
But Reeb dropped that amendment after admitting to Baldwin’s attorneys via email that she misapplied a law that didn’t go into effect until after Hutchins’ death.
And at a status hearing last week, Baldwin’s attorneys claimed that the gun used to kill Hutchins was destroyed during the preliminary investigation. Prosecutors disputed that statement, noting that the gun sustained some internal damage during the FBI’s initial investigation, but is still intact.
Along with Reeb, Carmack-Altwies hired a spokeswoman, Heather Brewer, dedicated to answering Rust media inquiries. Brewer has made inflammatory public comments, calling Baldwin a celebrity “with outlandish lawyers,” which struck some attorneys as odd.
“Prosecutors have to walk a very fine line between what they can say publicly,” said John Day, a resident New Mexico attorney. “You don’t want to be accused up front of poisoning the jury pool. And that could certainly be an issue here.”