COURTS & LEGAL

Jury selection begins for trial of ‘Rust’ armorer in fatal 2021 shooting by Alec Baldwin

Feb 21, 2024, 4:56 PM

In this screen grab from lapel camera video provided by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, movie...

In this screen grab from lapel camera video provided by the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office, movie set armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, right, speaks with a sheriff's deputy as other colleagues, at center and left, react on the set of the western move "Rust," shortly after the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal, Oct. 21, 2021, in New Mexico. The scheduled trial next week of the movie weapons supervisor in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin may hinge on an enduring mystery: How did live ammunition find its way onto the set of a film set where it was expressly prohibited? (Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office via AP)

(Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office via AP)

SANTA FE, New Mexico (AP) — Prosecutors in New Mexico are pursuing accountability for the 2021 death of a cinematographer who was fatally shot by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal for the Western film “Rust.”

Before Baldwin’s case progresses, the armorer on the set is being tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence. Jury selection in Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s trial started Wednesday in Santa Fe.

Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to the charges and maintains she’s not directly to blame for Halyna Hutchins’ death. Baldwin also has pleaded not guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge in a separate case.

The process for selecting 12 jurors began with a pool of 70 residents from the Santa Fe area, including non-English speakers, a welder, a teacher, a graduate student and a mother who provides for six children. A prosecutor began with questions for jurors about their exposure to intensive media coverage and social media chatter about the case.

Prosecutors plan to present evidence that Gutierrez-Reed loaded a live round into the gun that killed Hutchins after unknowingly bringing live ammunition onto a set where it was expressly prohibited. They contend the armorer missed multiple opportunities to ensure safety on the movie set.

Defense attorneys have said they have evidence that will show otherwise.

The evidence and testimony has implications for Baldwin, who was pointing a gun at Hutchins during an October 2021 rehearsal outside Santa Fe when she was killed and director Joel Souza was wounded.

Here are some things to know about the Gutierrez-Reed trial:

CHARGES

Gutierrez-Reed, the stepdaughter of renowned sharpshooter and weapons consultant Thell Reed, was 24 at the time of Hutchins’ death. “Rust” was her second assignment as an armorer in a feature film.

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 detection by law enforcement.

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

More than 40 people are listed as witnesses during the trial that’s scheduled to run through March 6.

AMMUNITION

Authorities located six rounds of ammunition on the movie set in locations that included a box, a gun belt and a bandolier worn by Baldwin. Baldwin has said he assumed the gun only had rounds that couldn’t be fired.

Special prosecutors have argued in court filings that Hutchins died because of a series of negligent acts by Gutierrez-Reed. They say she should have noticed live rounds and intervened long before the shooting.

Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys say she’s unfairly been scapegoated. They contend live rounds arrived on set from an Albuquerque-based supplier of dummy rounds. They also pointed to a broader atmosphere of safety failures that were uncovered during an investigation by state workplace safety inspectors that go beyond Gutierrez-Reed.

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 has been used to try to pressure Gutierrez-Reed into a false confession about the handling of live ammunition on the “Rust” set.

WORKPLACE SAFETY

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. A missing or dimpled primer at the bottom of the cartridge is another trait of dummy rounds.

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. The report included testimony that production managers took limited or no action to address two misfires on set before Hutchins was shot.

Prosecutors urged a judge to keep regulators’ conclusions out of the trial because those might be used to argue that “Rust” management was responsible for safety failures, not Gutierrez-Reed.

The judge in the case sided last week with Gutierrez-Reed. The report says the production company did not develop a process for ensuring live rounds were kept away from the set and that it failed to give the armorer enough time to thoroughly inventory ammunition.

BALDWIN

Baldwin, the lead actor and a co-producer on “Rust,” was indicted in January on an involuntary manslaughter charge.

Baldwin has said he pulled back the gun’s hammer — not the trigger — and the weapon fired.

The charge against Baldwin provides two alternative standards for prosecution, one based on the negligent use of a firearm and another tied to negligence without due caution or “circumspection,” also defined as “total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.”

Legal experts say the latter standard could broaden the investigation beyond Baldwin’s handling of the gun. Alex Spiro, a defense attorney for Baldwin, says that’s unlikely to be allowed in court.

“There’s a theory that, by being the producer, he also has criminal liability,” Spiro said Tuesday before a judge in a scheduling hearing. “We don’t think that will withstand scrutiny.”

Prosecutors Kari Morrissey and Jason 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.”

Industry-wide guidance that applied to “Rust” says to “treat all firearms as if they are loaded.”

A trial date hasn’t been set for Baldwin.

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Jury selection begins for trial of ‘Rust’ armorer in fatal 2021 shooting by Alec Baldwin