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'Rust' prosecutor steps down after challenge from Alec Baldwin's defense

CNBC logo CNBC 3/14/2023 Rebecca Picciotto
  • The New Mexico special prosecutor in the "Rust" manslaughter case against actor Alec Baldwin and a co-defendant stepped down.
  • Baldwin's attorneys sought to disqualify the prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, because of her position as a state legislator.
  • She previously dropped a so-called firearm enhancement, which carried a five-year prison sentence, after admitting to Baldwin's lawyers she had incorrectly applied the law.
Alec Baldwin on Oct 7, 2021 at the Hamptons International Film Festival. © Provided by CNBC Alec Baldwin on Oct 7, 2021 at the Hamptons International Film Festival.

The special prosecutor in the "Rust" manslaughter case against actor Alec Baldwin stepped down Tuesday after Baldwin's attorneys argued that New Mexico's constitution barred her from serving in that role while being a state legislator.

It's a major setback in the state's case against Baldwin and co-defendant Hannah Gutierrez-Reed for the accidental fatal shooting in October 2021 of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of the "Rust" movie.

"After much reflection, I have made the difficult decision to step down as special prosecutor in the 'Rust' case," said Andrea Reeb, the special prosecutor, in her surprise statement. "My priority in this case — and in every case I've prosecuted in my 25-year career — has been justice for the victim."

"However, it has become clear that the best way I can ensure justice is served in this case is to step down so that the prosecution can focus on the evidence and the facts, which clearly show a complete disregard for basic safety protocols led to the death of Halyna Hutchins," she said.

Reeb's decision to recuse herself came after weeks of resistance to that idea by her and First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, who appointed her.

"I will not allow questions about my serving as a legislator and prosecutor to cloud the real issue at hand," Reeb said Tuesday.

Baldwin's defense lawyers last month filed a motion asking a judge to remove Reeb from the case, arguing that New Mexico's constitution explicitly bars people from holding a position in one branch of government while executing the powers of another branch. Reeb and the district attorney filed a motion rejecting that argument on March 6.

Luke Nikas, one of Baldwin's lawyers, reached by CNBC on Tuesday, did not directly comment on Reeb's recusal but pointed back to the reasoning from his motion to disqualify Reeb in which the defense argued there was "no question that Representative Reeb is violating both the plain text and the purpose of the New Mexico Constitution's separation-of-powers provision by serving simultaneously as a legislator and a prosecutor."

It is not clear whether Carmack-Altwies will take over the case or appoint a new special prosecutor. The First Judicial District Attorney's office did not immediately respond to a request for additional comment.

Baldwin, star and producer of "Rust," and Gutierrez-Reed, the original "Rust" armorer, are facing two counts of involuntary manslaughter, both of which carry an 18-month prison sentence. A jury will decide which count of manslaughter applies.

The original assistant director of "Rust," David Halls, signed a plea deal for the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, granting him a suspended sentence and six months of probation.

Baldwin and other "Rust" producers are also in the middle of a civil suit, launched by Hutchins' mother, father, and sister on Feb. 9. The movie is set to continue filming this spring.

Earlier issues

An image of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who died after being shot by Alec Baldwin on the set of his movie © Provided by CNBC An image of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who died after being shot by Alec Baldwin on the set of his movie

The prosecution had already come under fire for missteps in the charging and handling of the case.

Reeb, who previously served as a district attorney in New Mexico's Ninth Judicial District Attorney's Office, originally charged Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed in January with a so-called firearm enhancement. That carried a five-year mandatory minimum prison sentence if the defendants were convicted.

But Reeb dropped that enhancement after admitting to Baldwin's lawyers over email that she incorrectly applied a law that took effect only after Hutchins was killed.

And, at a status hearing last week, Baldwin's attorneys asserted that the gun which killed Hutchins had been destroyed in the process of investigation. The prosecutors denied that statement, noting that the gun had experienced some internal damage during the FBI's initial investigation but is still intact.

Along with Reeb, Carmack-Altwies hired a spokesperson, Heather Brewer, specifically dedicated to answering "Rust" media inquiries. Brewer has made incendiary public comments, referring to Baldwin as a celebrity "with fancy attorneys," that have struck some lawyers as odd.

"Prosecutors have to walk a very fine line between what you can say publicly," said John Day, a local New Mexico lawyer. "You don't want to be accused of poisoning the jury pool ahead of time. And that certainly could be an issue here."


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