‘Sloppy’ armourer or ‘easy target’: Key moments so far from Rust shooting trial

The state called Gutierez-Reed ‘sloppy’ and ‘unprofessional’ while defence described her as an ‘easy target’. Graig Graziosi reports on the key moments in the trial so far

Tuesday 05 March 2024 20:33 GMT
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of testimony in the trial against her in First District Court, in Santa Fe, N.M., Thursday, February 22, 2024
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of testimony in the trial against her in First District Court, in Santa Fe, N.M., Thursday, February 22, 2024 (AP)

In October 2021, the production of the Western film Rust came to a tragic end when its director of photography, Halyna Hutchins, was shot and killed while rehearsing a scene with its star and producer Alec Baldwin.

Baldwin pulled a Colt 45 replica from his holster in practice for a scene. The gun went off and a bullet struck Hutchins in the chest, exiting her body and then striking director Joel Souza in the stomach.

Hutchins died from her injuries, while Mr Souza survived.

The subsequent investigation into the shooting resulted in both Baldwin and the production's armourer Hannah Gutierez-Reed facing involuntary manslaughter charges.

Ms Gutierrez-Reed’s trial began in mid-February. She has pleaded not guilty to two charges of involuntary manslaughter and a charge of tampering with evidence.

Prosecutors have accused Ms Gutierez-Reed – who in her role was in charge of maintaining the safety and functionality of firearms on the movie set – was negligent on set, that she brought live rounds to the production, one of which was the bullet that killed Hutchins.

They also argue that the armourer attempted to hide cocaine from investigators by allegedly giving drugs to her crewmate to hold for her.

Ms Gutierez-Reed's defence has argued that she is an “easy target” for the film production to blame and for Baldwin to use as a scapegoat in the tragic incident.

The defence has also questioned the chain of custody of the physical evidence collected from the scene, the protocols followed by federal investigators examining that evidence, and the qualifications of crew members who were at the scene on the day of the shooting who have described Gutierez-Reed as “less professional” than typical armourers.

Here are the key revelations from the trial – so far:

Prosecutors describe Gutierez-Reed as ‘sloppy’

During opening statements, special prosecutor Jason Lewis said Ms Gutierez-Reed was called "sloppy" and "unprofessional" by her colleagues.

He said that she allegedly left weapons and ammunition lying around the set, where typically those items would have been kept under lock and key until they were ready for use.

“You will hear testimony that [Gutierrez-Reed] routinely left guns and ammunition lying around the set unattended and that her gun safe and ammo cart were constantly disorganized,” he said.

Baldwin Set Shooting

Defence points finger at Alec Baldwin, says Gutierez-Reed was an ‘easy target’

Jason Bowles, the defence attorney representing Ms Gutierez-Reed, said in his opening statements that “just because there was a tragedy doesn’t mean a crime was committed”.

“They are trying to blame it all on Hannah,” he told the jury. “Why? Because she is an easy target … the least powerful person on that set.”

He painted Ms Gutierez-Reed as someone who wanted better training and safety on set but was thwarted by the demands of the film's writer, producer, and star, Baldwin.

“You’re going hear again Mr Baldwin — one of the lead producers, head actor in the movie, who really controlled the set — you’re going to hear that he violated some of the most basic gun-safety rules you can ever learn,” he said.

“From a young age, we all learn you don’t point a gun at somebody ever unless you want to shoot them. You treat all guns as loaded, and you keep your finger out of the trigger until you’re ready to shoot. He violated all those."

Chain of custody for physical evidence

The prosecution spent the first day of the trial calling law enforcement witnesses — including Santa Fe County sheriff's deputies who responded to the shooting, as well as FBI forensics analysts who received and handled the weapon and ammunition collected from both the production and from PDQ Arm and Prop, a New Mexico prop shop that supplied the rounds to the film.

Those witnesses testified to the process of collecting and analysing the evidence, which the prosecution used to show that no one could have tampered with the evidence during the investigation.

Bodycam footage taken from former Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Deputy Tim Benavidez showed him placing a panicked Ms Gutierez-Reed in his patrol vehicle and asking for medical assistance for her in the aftermath of the shooting.

He told a paramedic that she was “hyperventilating” and having a “panic attack.”

Alec Baldwin Set Shooting

She can be heard on the recording saying “Oh my God, oh f***... are they ok?” after learning about the shooting.

Alleged drug use

The state called on a digital extraction expert who pulled text messages off Ms Gutierez-Reed's phone for the investigators.

The text messages included Ms Gutierez-Reed, shortly after the shooting, discussing how she wanted to get high.

Prosecutors are seeking to establish that she uses drugs recreationally and that she tried to hide cocaine after the shooting.

Gutierez-Reed’s phone number leaked

Day two of the trial ended several hours early after a piece of evidence containing her phone number was shown on CourtTV's livestream.

According to the judge, people took screenshots of the evidence and began texting Ms Gutierez-Reed harassing remarks.

Near the end of the trial, the judge sent the jury back to its chambers and asked the bailiff to ask them a question. The question that was asked is unknown.

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey shows defense attorney Jason Bowles a picture of a firearmReed during Hannah Gutierrez-Reed trial at District Court, Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, in Santa Fe, New Mexico

When the jury returned, the bailiff handed the judge a slip of paper with the jury's answer, and the court abruptly adjourned for the day.

FBI firearms analyst says gun could not fire unless trigger was pulled

Bryce Ziegler, an FBI firearms expert who examined the Colt 45 replica used in the fatal shooting, testified that – after extensive testing – the only way the gun could have fired was if Baldwin pulled the trigger.

This claim contradicts Baldwin's insistence that the gun fired without him ever pulling the trigger.

Mr Ziegler said he had to break the gun with a mallet to force it to fire without a trigger pull.

Armourer ‘less professional’ than others

Ross Addiego, who worked as a dolly grip on Rust, said he had worked with at least a dozen other armourers during his career and described them as “uptight” and “anal retentive” because they typically hold the lives of others in their hands. By contrast, he said Ms Gutierez-Reed was "less professional" than those armourers, noting that he would see ammunition and gunbelts lying around the set unsecured.

“She wasn’t necessarily as serious or professional as I am accustomed to with the other armourers that I’m familiar with,” Mr Addiego testified. “I don’t know that I’ve ever seen an armourer pull loose ammo out of a fanny pack.”

The prosecution and defence went back and forth when the state asked him what the armourer was responsible for on set. The defence objected several times to the state's line of questioning, but Mr Addiego was ultimately allowed to answer and said that the armourer was responsible for controlling the firearms and ammo on set and ensuring that they were safe.

Safety on set

Mr Addiego further told the state that there were no safety bulletins issued on the movie set prior to the shooting and that he was only invited to one safety meeting.

He said that in typical film production, there would be daily safety bulletins issued to the cast and crew and that safety meetings would happen daily, if not even more frequently.

Alec Baldwin's Involuntary Manslaughter Trial Set For July

Alec Baldwin's trial date announced

During Mr Addiego’s testimony, news broke that Baldwin's trial date had been set.

The actor will go to court beginning on 9 July. He is charged with involuntary manslaughter.

Witness describes moment Halyna Hutchins was shot

The dolly grip on Rust said the crew was rehearsing a scene inside a church that involved Baldwin's character, Harlan Rust, pulling a gun to defend himself from lawmen who were chasing him.

He recalled the moment the gun fired and wounded Hutchins.

“A firearm went off in a small wooden church,” Mr Addiego testified.

“The concussion, ears ringing, that moment of panic in everybody. I think the first person I made eye contact with was Halyna, who was clearly injured by whatever that gunshot was… She was starting to go flush and holding her right side.”

Heated exchange with defence

During his cross-examination, the defence asked Mr Addegio about a lawsuit he filed against Baldwin and the film's producers. He asked if Mr Addiego was looking for money from the lawsuit.

“I’m hoping for justice, sir,” Mr Addiego replied. “Two people were injured on a film set. That has not only affected me — it’s affected the film industry.”

Alec Baldwin Rust Shooting (Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

The cross-examination remained tense. Mr Bowles pressed Mr Addiego on why he blamed Ms Gutierez-Reed for the shooting rather than other crewmembers who might have been involved in the incident.

“Ms Gutierrez Reed loaded a firearm that killed my friend and injured a director,” Mr Addiego said.

Autopsy photos shown in court

On day five of the trial, the state called University of New Mexico Chief Medical Investigator Dr Heather Jarrell, who conducted Hutchins' autopsy. Photos of the autopsy were shown to the court.

Ms Gutierez-Reed had maintained a generally stoic expression for the majority of the trial up to that point, but she appeared close to breaking when the photos were shown.

Dr Jarrell said that the photos showed Hutchins before her wounds had been cleaned, as is typical practice for medical examiners.

Ms Gutierez-Reed was visibly disturbed by the images, and her eyes frequently darted away from the screen. She rested her face in her hands during part of Dr Jarrell's testimony.

‘I’m like the only female armourer in the game and I just f***** my whole entire career’

A video taken from the body camera footage of Santa Fe County Sheriff’s detective Alexandria Hancock was played in court. The footage shows Ms Hancock escorting Gutierrez-Reed to the bathroom on the day Halyna Hutchins was shot.

“Welcome to the worst day of my life,” Gutierrez-Reed says as the two walk toward the bathroom.

She later says “I can’t believe Alec Baldwin was holding the gun, that’s so f*****,” Gutierrez-Reed says.

She also asks to be moved to another car to avoid being seen by her coworkers.

“I just want to get the f*** out of here and never show my face in this industry again,” she says.

When Ms Hancock asks her about her background, she says she’s new to the industry but fears she’s ruined her career.

“I’m like the only female armourer in the game and I just f***** up my entire career,” she says.

Court shown footage in which shotgun barrel is pointed up at Gutierrez-Reed’s face

The state showed a video clip taken from the production of “Rust” that shows a moment where Hannah Gutierrez-Reed is holding a shotgun.

The shotgun’s stock is on the ground, and the barrel is pointed upward. She has her hands wrapped around the end of the barrel, which at moments points up toward her face and neck.

Byran Carpenter, a Hollywood armourer testifying for the state, said it violated basic gun safety rules.

He later was asked if he knew basic firearms safety rules when he took his first armourer job, and he said he did.

“When you first started out as an armourer, would you have held a double barrel shotgun pointed at your own head?” the prosecutor asked.

“I would not,” he replied.

‘Rust’ assistant director — who was also charged in the shooting — testifies

David Halls, the first assistant director on “Rust,” recalled the moment that Ms Hutchins was shot.

Mr Halls was charged with improper handling of a firearm and took a plea deal. He was sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation.

He said on the day of the incident, Alec Baldwin pulled his gun out, cross-drawing, and was talking with Ms Hutchins about where to point the gun. That’s when the shot was fired.

Mr Halls became emotional during the recollection.

“The idea that it was a live round of ammunition that went off...it wasn’t computing,” Mr Halls said.

He initially thought it was a blank that went off or an obstruction in the gun. Mr Halls said Ms Hutchins fell to the ground three feet to his left.

He then began crying. Mr Halls said he asked if Ms Hutchins was alright, and she said “I can’t feel my legs.”

Mr Halls said he then left the church to make sure 911 was being called, and the set medic arrived to assist Ms Hutchins.

He later confirmed he was under no compulsion by the state to testify in Gutierrez-Reed’s trial.

Joel Souza, director of ‘Rust’, testifies

“Rust” director Joel Souza was also shot on the day Ms Hutchins was killed. The bullet exited Ms Hutchins’ body and struck Mr Souza.

He said he remembered watching Ms Hutchins be lowered to the ground immediately after she was shot.

The director said he was confused and could not figure out what had happened. He had also been shot as the bullet passed through Ms Hutchins and hit him in the abdomen.

Mr Souza said he thought perhaps Ms Hutchins had just been startled by the gun, but then he saw the blood pooling on her back and realised something terrible had occurred.

He said he recalled Gutierrez-Reed yelling “I’m sorry, I’m sorry Joel” in the aftermath of the incident.

Later, when he was being treated at the hospital, he said he refused to believe he’d been shot with a live round until he was shown evidence by the medical staff, insisting that a live bullet could not have ended up on the set.

Owner of prop shop that supplied ‘Rust’ with dummy ammo said he did not give the production live rounds

Seth Kenney, the owner of PDQ Arm and Prop, which provided the “Rust” production with dummy ammunition, said the live round that ended up on set did not originate from his shop.

The defence spent considerable time trying to prove that there were other plausible ways a live bullet ended up on set that do not involve Gutierrez-Reed. One of those avenues suggested was that the live ammunition originated at PDQ Arm and Prop.

Mr Kenney said that he only provided dummy ammunition, which are inert bullets that resemble live rounds.

When Mr Kenney was asked if he ever gave any live ammunition to propmaster Sarah Zachry, he said “no.”

However, he did admit that he had live rounds that he used in a shooting exercise for the cast of 1883. The event was held on series creator Tyler Sheridan’s private ranch, not on set.

He said those live rounds were stored in a bathroom at his shop in a grey plastic container marked “live rounds” on the exterior.

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