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Jury convicts armorer of involuntary manslaughter in Alec Baldwin shooting

Mar 6, 2024, 4:30 PM

Image: "Rust" movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stands by her defense team during her involuntary...

"Rust" movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed stands by her defense team during her involuntary manslaughter trial on Tuesday, March 5, 2024, at the First Judicial District Courthouse in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Pool file photo: Jim Weber, Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

(Pool file photo: Jim Weber, Santa Fe New Mexican via AP)

SANTA FE, N.M. — A jury convicted a movie weapons supervisor of involuntary manslaughter on Wednesday in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal on the set of the Western movie “Rust.”

The verdict against movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed assigned new blame in the October 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins in October 2021 after an assistant director last year pleaded no contest to negligent handling of a firearm.

Gutierrez-Reed also had faced a second charge, of evidence tampering, stemming from accusations that she handed a small bag of possible narcotics to another crew member after the shooting to avoid detection. She was found not guilty on that charge.

Immediately after the verdict was read in court, the judge ordered the defendant to be placed in the custody of deputies.

Baldwin, the lead actor and a co-producer on “Rust,” was indicted by a grand jury in January on a charge of involuntary manslaughter. He was pointing a gun at Hutchins on a movie set outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, when the gun went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza.

Previous coverage: Expert in Old West firearms says gun wouldn’t malfunction in fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin

The proceedings were a preamble to the actor’s scheduled trial in July on the single charge of involuntary manslaughter. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty.

Messages seeking comment about the verdict from Baldwin’s spokeswoman and a lawyer were not immediately returned.

Prosecutors say Gutierrez-Reed unknowingly brought live ammunition onto the set of “Rust” at a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe, arguing that rounds lingered for at least 12 days until the fatal shooting. In closing arguments, prosecutor Kari Morrissey described “constant, never-ending safety failures” on the set of “Rust” and Gutierrez-Reed’s “astonishing lack of diligence” with gun safety.

“We end exactly where we began — in the pursuit of justice for Halyna Hutchins,” Morrissey had told the jury before they began deliberating. “Hannah Gutierrez failed to maintain firearms safety, making a fatal accident willful and foreseeable.”

Prosecutors contend the armorer repeatedly skipped or skimped on standard gun-safety protocols that might have detected the live rounds.

“This was a game of Russian roulette every time an actor had a gun with dummies,” Morrissey said.

Defense attorneys said the problems on the set extended far beyond Gutierrez-Reed’s control, including the mishandling of weapons by Baldwin. At trial they cited sanctions and findings by state workplace safety investigators.

Prosecutors did not come close to proving where the live rounds originated and failed to fully investigate an Albuquerque-based ammunition supplier, the defense said at trial.

Lead attorney Jason Bowles told jurors that no one in the cast and crew thought there were live rounds on set and Gutierrez-Reed could not have foreseen that Baldwin would “go off-script” when he pointed the revolver at Hutchins. Investigators found no video recordings of the shooting.

“It was not in the script for Mr. Baldwin to point the weapon,” Bowles said. “She didn’t know that Mr. Baldwin was going to do what he did.”

To drive the point home, Bowles played a video outtake in which Baldwin fired a revolver loaded with blanks — including a shot after a director calls “cut.”

On the day of the shooting, Bowles said, Gutierrez-Reed alone was segregated in a police car away from others, becoming a convenient scapegoat.

“You had a production company on a shoestring budget, an A-list actor that was really running the show,” Bowles said. “At the end, they had somebody they could all blame.”

Dozens of witnesses testified during the 10-day trial, from FBI experts in firearms and crime-scene forensics to a camera dolly operator who described the fatal gunshot and watching Hutchins go flush and lose feeling in her legs before death.

The prosecution painstakingly assembled photographic evidence it said traced the arrival and spread of live rounds on set, and argued that Gutierrez-Reed repeatedly missed opportunities to ensure safety and treated basic gun protocols as optional.

The defense had cast doubt on the relevance of photographs of ammunition, noting FBI testimony that live rounds can’t be fully distinguished from dummy ones on sight.

Bowles began his closing arguments by highlighting testimony from “Rust” armorer Sarah Zachry saying that, in a panic in the immediate aftermath of the shooting, she threw out ammunition from guns used by actors other than Baldwin. That undermined all evidence about the sources of ammunition, the defense argued.

Prosecutors said six live rounds found on set bear mostly identical characteristics and don’t match live rounds seized from the movie’s supplier in Albuquerque. Defense attorneys said the cluttered supply office was not searched until a month after the shooting, undermining the significance of physical evidence.

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Jury convicts armorer of involuntary manslaughter in Alec Baldwin shooting