Judge to weigh request to dismiss Alec Baldwin shooting case for damage to evidence during testing

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — A New Mexico judge plans to rule Friday on a request to dismiss the sole charge against Alec Baldwin in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer over concerns the FBI damaged the firearm during forensic testing before defense attorneys could examine it.

Defense attorneys for Alec Baldwin have asked Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer to scuttle the case against Baldwin ahead of what would be a high-profile trial starting in July.

Baldwin's legal team has requested that, if the trial moves forward, the judge should at least prohibit presentation of an analysis of the gun using replacement parts by a firearms expert for the prosecution. They say investigators may have destroyed potentially exculpatory evidence while testing whether the gun might accidentally discharge without a pull of the trigger.

During a film-set rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin was pointing the gun at Halyna Hutchins when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza, who survived.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Sheriff’s investigators initially sent the revolver to the FBI for routine testing, but when an FBI analyst heard Baldwin say in an ABC TV interview that he never pulled the trigger, the agency told local authorities they could conduct an accidental discharge test, though it might damage the gun.

The FBI was told by a team of investigators to go ahead, and tested the revolver by striking it from several angles with a rawhide mallet. One of those strikes fractured the gun's firing and safety mechanisms.

“They understood that this was potentially exculpatory evidence and they destroyed it anyway,” Baldwin lawyer John Bash said during a virtual court hearing Monday. “It’s outrageous and it requires dismissal.”

Prosecutors said it was “unfortunate” the gun broke, but it wasn't destroyed and the parts are still available. They say Baldwin’s attorneys still have the ability to defend their client and question the evidence against him.

Baldwin's lawyers say authorities went ahead with destructive testing of the gun without bothering to disassemble it and photograph the parts first, thus eliminating their most critical evidence in the case. Noting damage to the top notch on the revolver's hammer, they urged the judge to prohibit a jury from viewing an analysis of the reconstructed gun.

Several hours of testimony about the gun and forensic testing during online hearings provided a dress rehearsal for the possible trial against Baldwin. Attorneys for Baldwin gave long and probing cross-examinations of the lead detective, an FBI forensic firearm investigator and the prosecution's independent gun expert, Lucien Haag.

Special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson told the court Monday that the defense has plenty of gun evidence to work with at the trial.

She added that all available evidence, from witness testimony to video footage of Baldwin firing the revolver, showed the gun was in good working order on the day of the shooting and that police had no reason to believe its internal workings could provide exonerating evidence.

Prosecutors plan to present evidence that they say shows the firearm “could not have fired absent a pull of the trigger” and was working properly before the shooting.

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted in March of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the shooting and was sentenced to 1.5 years in prison.

Since the 2021 shooting, the filming of “Rust” resumed but moved to Montana under an agreement with Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, which made him an executive producer. The completed movie has not yet been released for public viewing.