‘Rust’ movie armorer found guilty of involuntary manslaughter

Mar 6, 2024, 4:25 PM | Updated: Mar 7, 2024, 6:23 am

Originally Published: 06 MAR 24 15:25 ET

Updated: 06 MAR 24 18:16 ET

[Breaking news update, published at 6:16 p.m. ET]

(CNN) — Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the “Rust” film armorer, was found guilty of involuntary manslaughter and acquitted of tampering with evidence Wednesday in a New Mexico trial stemming from the 2021 on-set fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who was killed by a live round of ammunition fired from a prop gun that was held by actor Alec Baldwin.

Gutierrez Reed, who was responsible for firearm safety and storage on the movie’s set, was acquitted of a separate charge of evidence tampering, which was brought after prosecutors alleged she transferred a “small bag of cocaine” to someone else after a police interview on the day of the shooting.

The involuntary manslaughter charge carries up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

[Original story, published at 5:04 p.m. ET]

The involuntary manslaughter charge carries up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine.

A jury began deliberating Wednesday in the involuntary manslaughter trial of Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the armorer on the “Rust” movie set in 2021 when cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally struck by a live round of ammunition fired from a prop gun held by actor Alec Baldwin.

Gutierrez Reed also faces a separate charge of evidence tampering, which was brought after prosecutors alleged she transferred a “small bag of cocaine” to someone else after a police interview on the day of the October 21, 2021, shooting.

‘Rust’ armorer Gutierrez Reed, who was responsible for firearm safety and storage on the set, is the first person to stand trial in a case that highlighted the movie industry’s safety standards – and this specific set’s violations of them.

Baldwin had been practicing for a scene and was drawing and pointing a revolver with guidance from Hutchins and Joel Souza, the film’s director, according to a probable cause statement filed in January 2023. Souza also was shot but survived.

The prosecution argued Gutierrez Reed’s failures allowed six live rounds to make their way onto the set and she did not conduct vital safety checks of the gun and ammunition, alleging her actions ultimately contributed to Hutchins’ death.

“She had six, six live rounds on that movie set, the earliest date that I can track them for you is October 10,” special prosecutor Kari Morrissey said during closing arguments Wednesday. “Six, and she failed to ferret them out for 12 days. What that means is that she wasn’t shaking any dummy rounds, she wasn’t testing anything.”

“If she’s not checking the dummy ammunition during the pendency of the filming to make sure that those rounds that are designed to look like live rounds are in fact dummy rounds, this was a game of Russian roulette every time an actor had a gun with dummies.”

Gutierrez Reed’s defense attorney Jason Bowles instead argued in the trial the blame lies elsewhere and said his client was being used as a scapegoat.

He questioned how the live ammunition made it on set and alleged the “Rust” production team created a chaotic and unsafe environment that put Gutierrez Reed under “really tough conditions to keep up with.” And Baldwin did not follow common-sense gun safety rules on set when he handled the firearm and acted unpredictably when he pointed the weapon at Hutchins, Bowles said in his closing statements.

“(Gutierrez Reed) could not anticipate what Baldwin would do. It was not in the script, it was not foreseeable,” he said. “Management was responsible for safety failures and not Hannah.”

Bowles also pushed back against the evidence tampering charge, saying a witness had assumed there was cocaine in a small bag Gutierrez Reed handed her on the day of the shooting, but that she quickly threw the bag away and the substance was never tested or confirmed to be the drug.

Baldwin, who has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter, is expected to stand trial in July. He has pleaded not guilty and has maintained he did not pull the trigger.

A government report published roughly six months after the shooting said the movie set “willfully violated” safety rules and “demonstrated plain indifference to employee safety.” Rust Movie Productions, LLC was fined for its actions, CNN has reported.

Jurors heard from more than 30 witnesses during the trial – including movie crew members, law enforcement officials and forensics experts – and watched videos of body camera footage from the day of the shooting.

In one of those clips, Gutierrez Reed told a Santa Fe County Sheriff corporal there was never live ammunition kept on set and that she had checked the prop guns and the “dummy” rounds the morning before the shooting. Gutierrez Reed told the same officer she checks dummy rounds on set “most of the time.”

“Dummy” rounds refer to ammunition that contains no explosive elements but resemble actual bullets.

Assistant film director David Halls admitted during the trial he was “negligent” in checking the gun and did not properly look through all the rounds in the gun’s chamber when Gutierrez Reed presented it to him.

“She opened up the latch to the revolver, I recall seeing three to four, what I believed to be dummy rounds,” Halls testified. He later added: “I don’t recall her fully rotating the cylinder.”

Halls yelled “cold gun” before the weapon was handed to Baldwin, a remark meant to indicate the firearm did not have live rounds, according to a court document. 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.

“I was negligent in checking the gun properly,” Halls told the court.

Halls 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.

In her closing statements, Morrissey said there was no evidence someone else was to blame for the shooting, adding Gutierrez Reed was “the autonomous decisionmaker with regard to gun safety” on set.

“Alec Baldwin’s conduct and his lack of gun safety … on that day is something that he’s going to have to answer for. Not with you and not today,” the prosecutor told jurors Wednesday. “That will be with another jury, on another day.”

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‘Rust’ movie armorer found guilty of involuntary manslaughter