‘Rust’ case district attorney appoints new special prosecutors, recuses herself

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The New Mexico district attorney who had overseen the “Rust” movie set manslaughter case recused herself Wednesday and appointed new special prosecutors after weeks of upheaval and controversy in the case.

Actor Alec Baldwin and the movie’s original armorer, Hanna Gutierrez-Reed, are each charged with manslaughter in the accidental fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the set of “Rust” in 2021. Both have pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry 18-month prison sentences.

New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies appointed New Mexico attorneys Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis to serve as special prosecutors. The move comes two weeks after the previous special prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, stepped down after Baldwin’s lawyers pressed for her removal, claiming her appointment was unconstitutional.

“My responsibility to the people of the First Judicial District is greater than any one case, which is why I have chosen to appoint a special prosecutor in the ‘Rust’ case,” Carmack-Altwies said in a statement. “Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis will unflinchingly pursue justice in the death of Halyna Hutchins on behalf of the people of First Judicial District.”

Morrissey and Lewis told CNBC via email: “We will not be making statements to the press at this time. We need to focus on preparing for the upcoming preliminary hearing.”

CNBC has reached out to Baldwin’s lawyers for comment. Jason Bowles, who represents Gutierrez-Reed, told CNBC via email he had no comment “at this time” concerning Carmack-Altwies’ recusal.

Earlier this week, New Mexico Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled that Carmack-Altwies could not appoint a new special prosecutor unless the DA’s office planned to fully recuse itself from the case. 

During a hearing Monday, Carmack-Altwies said the DA’s office was in “dire straits” due to a lack of staffing, which she said wouldn’t abate by preliminary hearings on the “Rust” case, set to kick off on May 3. 

“We need extra manpower on this case so that it does not take away from prosecuting all of the other cases currently in our office,” Carmack-Altwies said Monday.

From the start, complications around the special prosecutor appointment have disrupted the case. 

Reeb, a former district attorney, was named special prosecutor before being elected to New Mexico’s legislature last fall. During Reeb’s tenure, the prosecution put out a variety of inflammatory statements about the defense, something critics called highly irregular and improper.

Baldwin’s lawyers argued that New Mexico’s constitution bars people from simultaneously serving as prosecutor and legislator, as it could lead to a conflict of interest. 

Reeb stepped down March 14, just over a month after Baldwin’s defense lawyers filed a motion requesting her removal, which Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyers co-signed. 

Initially, Reeb and the DA office rejected the motion, calling it a “misconception” with “no support in New Mexico statutes or case law,” according to court documents. 

Since stepping down, additional details about Reeb’s dueling commitments have been brought to light. Most recently, The New York Times reported that Reeb suggested in a June 2022 email that working on the case could help her political career. 

After that revelation, Baldwin’s attorneys said in court filings last Tuesday they now reserve the future right to argue “Reeb charged the case to advance her political career.” 

Baldwin’s team didn’t object to a new special prosecutor being appointed. Gutierrez-Reed’s legal team, however, called for the request to appoint a new special prosecutor to be denied.

“The statute is not designed to give district attorneys a taxpayer-funded supplemental ‘war chest’ to prosecute cases involving ‘high profile’ actors or individuals, adding firepower but allowing the district attorney and her assistants to remain on the case,” Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyers said in a brief ahead of Monday’s hearing.  

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