The special prosecutor in the 'Rust' case named Andrea Reeb, resigned, stating that she did not want questions about her dual roles as a legislator and prosecutor to "cloud" the issues.
The move is another setback for the prosecution of Alec Baldwin and Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who are accused of involuntary manslaughter in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021.
The prosecution previously dropped a five-year sentencing enhancement against both defendants, after discovering that the law did not apply at the time of Hutchins' death, reports Variety.
Reeb was hired last August by Mary Carmack-Altwies, the Santa Fe district attorney, to lead the prosecution. A longtime prosecutor from Clovis, N.M., Reeb was elected in November as a Republican member of the state House of Representatives.
Baldwin's lawyers argued that she could not serve both as a lawmaker and a prosecutor, due to the separation of powers provision of the state constitution. Reeb recused herself from voting on the state budget in February, because it included $360,000 for the 'Rust' prosecution.
A hearing on Baldwin's motion to disqualify Reeb had been scheduled for March 27.
"After much reflection, I have made the difficult decision to step down as special prosecutor in the 'Rust' case," Reeb said in a 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 continued. "I will not allow questions about my serving as a legislator and prosecutor to cloud the real issue at hand."
Carmack-Altwies had defended Reeb's appointment, arguing that there was no case law forbidding her from serving both roles simultaneously.
It's not clear who will take over the case following Reeb's departure. The First Judicial District Attorney's office previously indicated that Carmack-Altwies and Jennifer Padgett Macias, her chief deputy, would work with Reeb on the case.
A two-week preliminary hearing is scheduled to begin on May 3, and Baldwin's lawyers have already indicated they are not willing to delay it.
Carmack-Altwies sought special funding last fall from the state Board of Finance to hire Reeb, saying that she needed to bring someone in from outside the agency to work full-time on the case, reports Variety.
Reeb served as a special prosecutor in the case against James Lujan, the Rio Arriba County sheriff who was convicted of helping a friend evade arrest. Lujan was sentenced to three years in prison in that case.
Reeb made two appearances on Fox News following the announcement of charges in the 'Rust' case. Appearing on 'Hannity', she said that political factors played no role in the decision to bring charges.
During her campaign for state representative, Reeb received a $250 donation from Lisa Torraco, the attorney who represented David Halls in the case. Halls' investigator, W. Dennis Maez, also gave $500 to her campaign.
Halls, the first assistant director who was in charge of set safety on 'Rust', was allowed to plead no contest to a misdemeanor, and will not serve jail time. All involved have denied that the campaign contributions played any role in the outcome, though Torraco said she thought Reeb should step down from the case after taking office.