Legal experts believe Alec Baldwin should have given his televised interview a second thought before speaking out.
On Thursday night, the actor gave his first sit-down since the Oct. 21 shooting on the set of the Western film “Rust.” The 63-year-old told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos that he did not pull the trigger on a prop gun he was holding on a New Mexico film set when it went off, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Authorities have said Baldwin was told the gun was safe to handle but continue to investigate how a live round ended up in the weapon.
Rachel Fiset, the managing partner of Los Angeles-based Zweiback, Fiset & Coleman, told Fox News that while Baldwin felt it was necessary to speak out following the tragedy in a public format, his comments about the active investigation could potentially be used against him.
This image released by ABC News shows actor-producer Alec Baldwin, left, during an interview with ‘Good Morning America’ co-anchor George Stephanopoulos. The hour-long interview about the fatal shooting on the set of Baldwin’s film ‘Rust’ aired Thursday night. (Jeffrey Neira/ABC News via AP)
“Alec Baldwin is clearly devastated by the tragic accidental killing of Ms. Hutchins,” she said. “He likely feels compelled to speak publicly as a result, and he is sympathetic at times as it relates to the trauma he is experiencing. He is trying to direct the narrative in a way that shifts blame for this tragedy away from him. [However], it is never a good idea to speak publicly during an active investigation and this case is no different.”
“Any statements made on television during an investigation could result in unintended admissions that could be used against him later at trial or could prejudice the prosecutor against him,” Fiset pointed out. “If statements relating to facts turn out to be disproved, it will hurt his credibility with law enforcement or at trial. His admissions that someone is to be blamed – but not him – could also potentially be used against him later in either a civil or criminal case if it is determined that he had some responsibility for set safety as a major producer of the film.”
Like Fiset, litigator Molly Mauck of New York City-based law firm Romano Law told Fox News that the televised interview was a risky move that could cause more harm than good as the investigation continues.
“It is understandable why Alec Baldwin desires to explain to the press his perception of the events and attempt to control the narrative surrounding the tragic death of Halyna Hutchins,” she explained. “There is, however, risk to speaking before all the facts are known, or the investigations are complete. Any statements Mr. Baldwin makes may later be used against him in any potential civil or criminal case stemming from this incident. Similarly, any variations in his accounts of the incident could be later characterized as material inconsistencies and used to attack his credibility at trial.”
The ‘Rust’ shooting resulted in the death of Halyna Hutchins. (Mat Hayward/Getty Images for AMC Networks)
During the interview, Baldwin said, “I didn’t pull the trigger. I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them. Never.”
At one point, Baldwin broke down in tears as he described Hutchins, 42. Director Joel Souza was also wounded.
In response to a question about how a live round ended up on the set, the star replied, “I have no idea. Someone put a live bullet in a gun, a bullet that wasn’t even supposed to be on the property.”
Former assistant U.S. attorney Neama Rahmani, president and co-founder of Los Angeles-based West Coast Trial Lawyers, called the interview “a mistake.”
Several legal experts said Alec Baldwin’s televised interview during an active investigation was “a mistake.” (Jim Spellman/Getty Images)
“Baldwin says he didn’t pull the trigger, but that doesn’t absolve him from civil and potential criminal liability,” he explained. “Baldwin’s finger should have been nowhere near the hammer or the trigger, even if we are to believe the gun misfired. Nor should Baldwin ever point a firearm at another human being, even if cinematographer Halyna Hutchins told him to and he believed it wasn’t loaded or had blanks.”
“From a legal perspective, Baldwin’s interview was a mistake,” he shared. “His statements can and will be used against him in the civil lawsuits and any potential criminal prosecution. And Baldwin’s attorneys can’t use the interview to help him because his answers are hearsay. At best, the interview was a calculated public relations move that may backfire.”
Investigators have described “some complacency” in how weapons were handled on the “Rust” set. They have said it is too soon to determine whether charges will be filed, amid independent civil lawsuits concerning liability in the fatal shooting.
Los Angeles personal injury attorney Miguel Custodio, the co-founder of Custodio and Dubey LLP, wondered if Baldwin’s interview meant that new updates from the investigation will be announced soon and Baldwin’s team is looking to get ahead.
Director Joel Souza was also hit by the projectile, but has since been released from the hospital. (Photo by Jim Spellman/Getty Images)
“Alec Baldwin has made a super risky move by agreeing to this interview, especially because he’s taking an absolute position on how the gun was fired,” he said. “The legal strategy behind this high-profile broadcast was likely done with a lot of thought, including what the potential ramifications could be and how this starts to frame the debate… the timing of this interview leads me to believe we’re going to hear some results of the investigation soon, and they want to get ahead of it – but not too far ahead of it that empathy for Baldwin starts to dissolve.”
Los Angeles criminal appeals attorney Matthew Barhoma agreed, stating that Baldwin is “saving face” and “fighting for his career.”
“Whoever comes out first with the narrative can control the narrative the most and here you see Baldwin really trying to distance himself from blame,” he said. “… He says that somebody will face the consequences in civil court and he’s absolutely right about that. He is going to be jointly and severally liable and it might be him to pay the price. In other words, if it’s determined Baldwin is less liable than other defendants, but he’s in a position to pay the judgment and the others aren’t, Baldwin could be on the hook for just about the whole amount. It will also depend on how much the production’s insurance policy will cover.”
Despite Baldwin facing backlash on social media following the sit-down, veteran Los Angeles criminal defense attorney Lara Yeretsian, who has represented Michael Jackson and Scott Peterson among other clients, said the actor came across as “very genuine, honest and natural.”
“I didn’t pull the trigger,” Alec Baldwin said. “I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them. Never.” (Photo by: Barbara Nitke/Peacock/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
“He did not seem to hold back or to be hiding anything,” she pointed out. “He answered the tough questions, including the toughest question of why he didn’t check the gun. He has done several things in this interview that I thought really helped him. He had solid answers and reasonable explanations on tough questions, he spoke extremely highly of the deceased, Halyna Hutchins, he was appropriately emotional without overdoing it and he was earnest in his desire that law enforcement finds out how the live bullet made it on the set.”
Hutchins, who has been described as a gifted filmmaker among her peers, is survived by her husband and their son.
Fox News’ Jessica Napoli, Julius Young and The Associated Press contributed to this report.