Trial of ‘Rust’ armorer begins in fatal film rehearsal shooting by Alec Baldwin

Feb 21, 2024, 9:14 PM | Updated: Feb 22, 2024, 5:02 pm

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Prosecutors delivered an opening statement Thursday at the first trial in the deadly shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin on the set of the Western film “Rust,” describing a movie weapons supervisor as sloppy and negligent in handling guns and ammunition while treating basic safety protocols as optional.

Before Baldwin’s case progresses, the weapons supervisor is being tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021, during a rehearsal on a movie ranch outside Santa Fe.

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says she’s not directly to blame for Hutchins’ death.

Prosecutors said they will present evidence that Gutierrez-Reed unwittingly brought live ammunition onto a film set where it was expressly prohibited. They say the armorer missed multiple opportunities to ensure safety, eventually loading a live round into the gun that killed Hutchins and failing twice to properly check whether rounds in the gun were live or dummies.

“We will show you, ladies and gentlemen, that by failing to make those vital safety checks, the defendant acted negligently and without due caution,” special prosecutor Jason Lewis told jurors. “And the decisions that she made that day ultimately contributed to Ms. Hutchins’ death.”

In his opening statement, lead defense counsel Jason Bowles pointed to findings by workplace safety regulators of broad problems that extended beyond the armorer’s control. He said his client was being rushed and had to perform two jobs and that her requests for more resources went unanswered from her manager.

“What they’ve tried to do, and what you’re seeing in this courtroom today, is trying to blame it all on Hannah, a 24-year-old. Why? Because she’s an easy target, she’s the least powerful person on that set,” Bowles said.

Gutierrez-Reed, the stepdaughter of renowned sharpshooter and weapons consultant Thell Reed, was 24 when the shooting occurred. She sat in the courtroom Thursday next to defense counsel throughout the day’s proceeding.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge in a separate case.

Prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Lewis initially dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin in April, saying they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. A more recent analysis of the gun concluded the “trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver.”

Bowles, however, shifted blame for safety failures away from his client and toward Baldwin and the “Rust” lead actor’s handling of a gun during rehearsal inside makeshift church where the fatal shooting took place.

“He either had his finger on the trigger and the hammer cocked, or he pulled the trigger, as he was pointing that at Ms. Hutchins and Mr. Souza,” he said. “You’re not going to hear anything about her being in that church or firing that weapon. That was Alec Baldwin.”

Baldwin has said he pulled back the gun’s hammer — not the trigger — and the weapon fired. He was indicted by a grand jury in January.

Bowles also said the trial will show Baldwin did not follow a safety recommendation from Gutierrez-Reed and flouted basic principles of gun safety in pulling out the revolver in a “cross-draw” motion without specific training.

“You’re going to hear that Ms. Gutierrez-Reed specifically requested to train Mr. Baldwin in a cross-draw,” Bowles told jurors. “You’re also going to hear that he did not do that training.”

Jurors from the Santa Fe area watched lapel camera recordings by law enforcement officers of chaotic events on the set immediately following the shooting, as medical personnel treated a wounded and semi-conscious Hutchins and loaded her into an ambulance as an evacuation helicopter arrived.

Prosecutors questioned two officers about their efforts to secure the scene and preserve evidence, and noted the moment when Gutierrez-Reed handed over the revolver from the shooting — already emptied of cartridges.

In cross examinations of the sheriff’s deputy and lieutenant, defense counsel questioned whether officers lost sight of a storage cart for ammunition and weapons amid the turmoil and highlighted that witnesses to the shooting were corralled together where conversations might erode reliable testimony.

The trial is scheduled to run through March 6, with more than 40 potential witnesses. A panel of 12 jurors and four alternatives were chosen in a daylong selection process Wednesday that involved questions about exposure to media and social media attention on the case.

Baldwin, the lead actor and a co-producer on “Rust,” doesn’t appear on pretrial witness lists, and could invoke protections against self-incrimination if pressed. His trial date has not been set.

Gutierrez-Reed faces up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. The evidence tampering charge stems from accusations she handed a small bag of possible narcotics to another crew member after the shooting to avoid law enforcement detection.

Her attorneys say that charge is an attempt by prosecutors to smear Gutierrez-Reed’s character. The bag was thrown away without testing the contents, defense attorneys said.

Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys say she’s been unfairly scapegoated. They contend live rounds arrived on set from an Albuquerque-based supplier of dummy rounds, and that the supplier was never investigated.

Additionally, Gutierrez-Reed is accused in another case of carrying a gun into a bar in downtown Santa Fe in violation of state law. Her attorneys say that charge was used to try to pressure Gutierrez-Reed into a false confession about the handling of live ammunition on the “Rust” set.

Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for storage, maintenance and handling of firearms and ammunition on set and for training members of the cast who would be handling firearms, according to state workplace safety regulators.

Live rounds are typically distinguished from dummy rounds by a small hole in the dummy’s brass cartridge, indicating there is no explosive inside — or by shaking the round to hear the clatter of a BB that is inserted inside.

The company Rust Movie Productions paid a $100,000 fine to the state following a scathing narrative of safety failures in violation of standard industry protocols.

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Trial of ‘Rust’ armorer begins in fatal film rehearsal shooting by Alec Baldwin