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‘Rust’ film armorer was ‘negligent’ and ‘unprofessional,’ prosecutors say at her manslaughter trial

By Christina Maxouris and Eric Levenson, CNN

(CNN) — “Rust” film armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed was “negligent” and “unprofessional” in her role overseeing prop weapons and ammunition, and her actions caused the on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, prosecutors said in opening statements of her manslaughter trial Thursday.

New Mexico prosecutor Jason Lewis said Gutierrez Reed’s failures allowed six live bullets to make their way onto the set, and she did not make vital safety checks that would have caught the problem.

“The evidence you’re going to hear throughout this trial is that the defendant was unprofessional and that she failed to do the essential safety functions of her job, and that these failures resulted in live ammunition being spread throughout this entire set,” he said. “Once the live ammunition was on the set, she failed to detect it, because she didn’t follow those essential safety protocols that required her to inspect every round before they were placed into the gun.”

The opening statements Thursday marked the start of a trial related to the October 2021 death of Hutchins, who was struck by a live round of ammunition fired from a prop gun held by actor Alec Baldwin.

Twelve jurors – seven men and five women – will now decide whether 26-year-old Gutierrez Reed is responsible for the killing.

She has been charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter “in the alternative” for the shooting, meaning jurors will not only have to decide whether she is guilty, but also under which legal definition of the state’s two types of involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors have also charged her with tampering with evidence, alleging she transferred a “small bag of cocaine” to someone else after returning from a police interview on the day of the shooting.

Gutierrez Reed has pleaded not guilty to all counts. If convicted, she faces up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine for each count. The trial is expected to last about two weeks.

Her defense will offer their opening statements shortly.

She will be the first person to stand trial in a case that has highlighted the movie industry’s safety standards – and this specific set’s violations of them.

Prosecutors have alleged Gutierrez Reed repeatedly violated safety protocols and neglected her responsibilities leading up to the shooting on October 21, 2021, including failing to perform safety checks on the prop weapon and the ammunition she loaded it with, handing it to a staff member who should not have been handling weapons on set and then departing from the area she should have been supervising when Baldwin ultimately fired the fatal round.

But defense attorneys have called the shooting a tragic accident and have accused the state of attempting to smear Gutierrez Reed’s reputation to try and bolster a politically-motivated prosecution. Her defense says live rounds should never have been on the set and that she performed her safety duties. They have pointed to other members of the production who bore responsibility for what took place on set, including the film’s assistant director, who handed Baldwin the loaded gun and took a plea deal in the case last year.

Separately, Baldwin is also expected to stand trial on an involuntary manslaughter charge in connection with the killing. He has pleaded not guilty and has previously said he didn’t pull the trigger.

Key moments before the shooting

In a probable cause statement filed in January 2023, prosecutors alleged the armorer loaded a prop firearm and stored the weapon during a lunch break in the set’s prop truck safe without first unloading it, as is proper safety protocol for dummy rounds. “Dummy” rounds refer to ammunition that contains no explosive elements but looks as if it was a real bullet when fired.

According to the probable cause statement, Gutierrez Reed also left a cart that contained ammunition unsecured and unsupervised during the break.

Gutierrez Reed did not perform a safety check of the weapon after the break and did not follow safety procedures, according to the statement. She handed the weapon to assistant film director David Halls, whose role on set is “prohibited and/or strictly discouraged from handling any of the firearms,” according to prosecutors. Gutierrez Reed then left the area, again violating safety protocol, prosecutors allege.

Gutierrez Reed’s attorney, Jason Bowles, previously told NBC his client had loaded the gun with what she believed were dummy rounds before Baldwin used it on set, saying she retrieved them from a box that was labeled “dummy.”

“She loaded rounds from that box into the handgun only to later find out – and she had no idea, she inspected the rounds – that there was a live round,” Bowles said at the time. Gutierrez Reed sued the movie’s gun and ammunition supplier in January 2022, alleging they sold her a cache of dummy ammunition that had live rounds mixed in.

While prosecutors have alleged Gutierrez Reed did not take out each round and show it to Baldwin and Halls as per protocol to ensure they were not live rounds, Bowles told NBC she spun the gun chamber for Halls and showed him “each and every round in that chamber.”

“There were six dummy rounds, she believed, to be in that handgun,” he told NBC, noting dummy rounds look like live rounds.

Gutierrez Reed was not in the area where Baldwin was rehearsing at the time of the shooting because the gathering was just supposed to be technical preparation, which would not require her presence, her attorneys have previously said.

‘Cold gun’ yelled on set

Halls, who received the firearm from Gutierrez Reed shortly before the shooting that day, yelled “cold gun” before Baldwin fired the weapon – a remark meant to indicate the firearm did not have any live rounds in it, according to an affidavit filed by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office and obtained by CNN affiliate KOAT.

Halls – who CNN has reported was previously the subject of safety complaints in other productions – did not know there were live rounds inside the gun, according to the affidavit.

Halls took a plea deal in 2023 for his role in the shooting, pleading no contest to one count of negligent use of a deadly weapon, according to the Los Angeles Times. He was sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation, a $500 fine, had to participate in a firearms safety class, complete 24 hours of community service and not use drugs or alcohol, according to the Times.

Halls’ attorney, Lisa Torraco, released a statement at the time in defense of her client. “Absent no charges at all, this is the best outcome for Mr. Halls and the case,” Torraco said. “He can now put this matter behind him and allow the focus of this tragedy to be on the shooting victims and changing the industry so this type of accident will never happen again.”

According to the probable cause statement, Baldwin had been practicing for a scene and was drawing and pointing the weapon with guidance from Hutchins and Joel Souza, the film’s director.

Baldwin drew the revolver, pointed it at Hutchins and fired the weapon shortly before 2 p.m., striking her in the chest and injuring Souza, prosecutors said in the probable cause statement. Hutchins was pronounced dead just after 3:30 p.m. that day.

In the probable cause statement, prosecutors alleged Gutierrez Reed “failed to mitigate or address multiple significant safety violations, safety issues, protocol violation(s) and/or concerns that resulted in multiple noted instances of recklessness leading up to, contributing to, and causing the fatal shooting.”

Five live rounds and one additional, spent, live round were retrieved from the set by investigators, according to the statement.

“The most egregious incident(s) of a reckless violation of safety and armorer duties is to allow live ammunition on or even near a film set where firearms are being used,” prosecutors said in the statement. “Reed should have caught this live ammunition on set but put everyone on the Rust set in danger by failing to do her job.”

A government report published roughly six months after the shooting painted a picture of a much larger problem, noting the “Rust” movie set “willfully violated” safety rules and “demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety.”

Gun safety procedures were not being followed on set, the report said, and the film’s management team knew it and failed to correct it.

Rust Movie Productions, LLC was fined nearly $137,000 – the maximum allowed by New Mexico law – and issued the highest-level citation for their actions.

At the time, Melina Spadone, an attorney for Rust Movie Productions, said: “We are pleased to have entered into an agreement with OHSB, subject to approval, which downgrades the citation and reduces penalties. Our top priority has always been resuming production and completing this film so we can honor the life and work of Halyna Hutchins. Settling this case rather than litigating is how we can best move forward to achieve that goal.”

Defense accused prosecutors of ‘character assassination’

Prosecutors have also alleged an unnamed witness said Gutierrez Reed transferred a small bag of cocaine to them on the day of the shooting, after returning from an interview at the police station.

Prosecutors said that move suggested she made the transfer to “avoid prosecution and prevent law enforcement from obtaining highly inculpatory evidence directly related to the defendant’s handling of the firearm and the circumstances of the fatal shooting.”

Bowles called the charge “character assassination,” telling CNN in June 2023 there was no “actual evidence of anything,” and questioned the witness who “suddenly appears 20 months later.”

The defense attorney responded similarly when, weeks earlier, prosecutors had alleged his client had been “drinking heavily and smoking marijuana in the evening during the shooting of Rust,” and said she was likely hungover when she placed a live bullet into the prop firearm.

“The prosecution has so mishandled this case and the case is so weak that they are now resorting to character assassination tactics to further taint the jury pool,” Bowles told CNN at the time.

“This investigation and prosecution has not been about seeking Justice; for them it’s been about finding a convenient scapegoat.”

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