‘Rust’ investigators release crime scene photos, await key evidence
By Graham Bowley and Julia Jacobs
Six months after Alec Baldwin fatally shot a cinematographer on the set of the movie “Rust,” raising questions about who was culpable and how live ammunition got onto the set, the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office said earlier this week it still lacked key pieces of evidence, including ballistics analysis, that it said it needed to complete its criminal investigation.
The Sheriff’s Office discussed the wait for evidence as it took the step of releasing a trove of files relating to the “Rust” investigation, including witness interviews; lapel- and dash-camera footage; crime scene photos; text messages among members of the crew in the days before and after the shooting; and videos of Baldwin practicing with the gun in the church where the deadly shooting occurred.
The office has been investigating the death of the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, 42, who was shot and killed in New Mexico on Oct. 21 during the rehearsal for a scene that required Baldwin to draw a replica old-fashioned revolver from a shoulder holster that he had been told contained no live ammunition.
The gun went off, discharging a bullet that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza. Since then, the Sheriff’s Office has been gathering evidence and investigating the circumstances surrounding the shooting.
The files released Monday included new details about the case, including a report of a Nov. 3 phone call that one investigator, Detective Alexandria Hancock, had with Baldwin. Baldwin said he had pulled the hammer of the gun about three-quarters of the way back and then let the hammer go, at which point the gun discharged, the report said.
Baldwin told Hancock that his finger had been on the trigger but that he did not pull the trigger, it said.
Hancock wrote that she tried to explain to him that if his “finger was on the trigger, and if he was pulling the hammer back with his thumb, his index finger may have still had enough pressure on the trigger for him to depress it.”
She added: “Alec advised he never tries to pull the trigger on a gun unless they are rolling the camera.”
But as it released the new materials, the Sheriff’s Office said it still lacked important building blocks of its investigation to be able to pass the case to the Santa Fe County district attorney for review.
Sheriff Adan Mendoza said in a statement that “various components of the investigation remain outstanding,” including firearm and ballistic forensics from the FBI, DNA and latent fingerprint analysis, a report from the New Mexico Medical Examiner’s office and the analysis of Baldwin’s phone data, which was extracted by investigators in Suffolk County, New York.
“Once these investigative components are provided to the Sheriff’s Office, we will be able to complete the investigation to forward it to the Santa Fe district attorney for review,” Mendoza said in a statement issued by his office.
Santa Fe County District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies said in a statement Monday that although investigators have sent over a portion of their inquiry to her office, detectives cannot send over a completed investigation until they receive certain reports.
“Once we receive the completed investigation and conduct a thorough and deliberate review of all evidence, a criminal charging decision will be made,” Carmack-Altwies said in the statement.
The University of New Mexico, where Hutchins’ autopsy is being performed, is not yet finished with its report, said a spokesperson, Mark Rudi.
A spokesperson for the Sheriff’s Office, Juan Rios, said the investigation was not taking longer than normal for what was “a complicated and convoluted case.”
He said the office had decided to release the files in bulk because of multiple requests from the media and from attorneys involved with the case, and because the office wanted to show what was still outstanding.
“This is an update,” he said. “We wanted to identify what remains.”
The FBI’s national press office declined to comment regarding the time it was taking to complete its firearm and ballistic investigation, and directed inquiries to local law enforcement officials. Rios said investigators in Suffolk County had yet to provide the New Mexico investigators with information from Baldwin’s phone.
Despite months of gathering evidence, it still remains unclear how live bullets found their way onto the film set and how one of them got into the gun that Baldwin was handling.
Investigators released copies of text messages and emails pulled from the phones of crew members that revealed discussions about safety concerns before the fatal shooting. Lane Luper, a camera crew member who walked off the set with several other colleagues on the morning of Oct. 21, wrote an email to production leaders saying that “things are often played very fast and loose” during the filming of gunfights. In text messages, the movie’s prop master, Sarah Zachry, discussed two accidental discharges; one involved her aiming a gun at the ground near her foot, and another involved a stunt man.
Last week, New Mexico state regulators faulted the producers of the movie, finding that the film management’s indifference to dangers involved in handling guns on set had led to the death of Hutchins, and they issued a $136,793 penalty on the production company, the maximum allowed under state law.
Footage from an officer’s body camera showed Souza, the film’s director, at the emergency room getting treatment for his bullet wound soon after the shooting, giving an interview just before he was given pain medication.
“I looked over and see the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, with blood coming out of her back,” Souza told the officer. “Do you know anything about what’s going on with her? Is she OK?”
The footage continued as medical professionals began to work on Souza, taking the bullet out of his body.
“Is Halyna still alive?” Souza is heard saying. “Please tell me she’s still alive.”