‘Rust’ Prosecutor Steps Down After Baldwin Challenges Appointment

‘Rust’ Prosecutor Steps Down After Baldwin Challenges Appointment

The special prosecutor named to the “Rust” case stepped down on Tuesday after lawyers for Alec Baldwin, who is being charged with involuntarily manslaughter in the killing of a cinematographer on the film set, argued that her appointment as a prosecutor violated the New Mexico Constitution because she also serves as a state lawmaker.

It was the second recent setback for the prosecution. Last month prosecutors downgraded the charges Baldwin faced in the killing of the cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, after his lawyers argued that the Santa Fe County district attorney had erred by initially charging him under a law that was not passed until months after the shooting.

The special prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, was appointed last year by District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, who had asked state officials for additional funding to hire employees to prosecute the case. At the time, Ms. Reeb had been campaigning for a seat in the state’s House of Representatives as the Republican candidate; she won the election months later and continued in the position of special prosecutor.

“After much reflection, I have made the difficult decision to step down as special prosecutor in the ‘Rust’ case,” Ms. Reeb, a former district attorney, said in a statement on Tuesday. “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.”

A spokeswoman for the district attorney’s office, Heather Brewer, declined to comment on whether a new special prosecutor would be appointed.

In court papers filed last month, lawyers for Mr. Baldwin argued that Ms. Reeb’s serving as both a legislator and a prosecutor was unlawful because it combined “two core powers of different branches — legislating and prosecuting — in the same person and is thus barred by the plain language of Article III of the New Mexico Constitution.”

Mr. Baldwin, who has pleaded not guilty, has asserted that he was not responsible for the shooting, saying he had no reason to believe that live rounds were on the set of “Rust,” a western being filmed outside of Santa Fe. Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer who handled weapons and ammunition on the set at the time, was also charged with involuntary manslaughter. Her lawyer has said she would plead not guilty.

A hearing had been scheduled later this month for the judge to determine whether Ms. Reeb should be disqualified from the position.

Ms. Carmack-Altwies, who appointed Ms. Reeb, wrote this month in court papers that Mr. Baldwin’s legal argument was based on a “misconception” that all government employees are members of one of the three branches of government, arguing that district attorneys were not part of the judicial system, but rather part of a “quasi-judicial office.”

But on Tuesday Ms. Reeb stepped down.

“I will not allow questions about my serving as a legislator and prosecutor to cloud the real issue at hand,” she said.

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