SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) — Attorneys prepared to make opening statements Thursday at the first trial related to the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal for the Western film “Rust.”
Before Baldwin’s case progresses, the movie’s weapons supervisor is being tried on charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021, on a movie ranch outside Santa Fe.
Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to the charges and says she’s not directly to blame for Hutchins’ death. In court filings, lead defense counsel Jason Bowles has pointed to findings by workplace safety regulators of broad problems that extended beyond the armorer’s control.
Prosecutors plan to present evidence that Gutierrez-Reed unwittingly brought live ammunition onto a film set where it was expressly prohibited. They say the armorer missed multiple opportunities to ensure safety, eventually loading a live round into the gun that killed Hutchins.
Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to an involuntary manslaughter charge in a separate case.
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.”
At the trial of Gutierrez-Reed, jurors from the Santa Fe area were sworn in Wednesday at the end of a daylong selection process that involved questions about exposure to media coverage and social media chatter about the case. Four jurors will initially serve as alternates to a panel of 12.
Gutierrez-Reed, the stepdaughter of renowned sharpshooter and weapons consultant Thell Reed, was 24 at the time of Hutchins’ death.
She 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.
The trial is scheduled to run through March 6, with more than 40 potential witnesses.
Baldwin, the lead actor and a co-producer on “Rust,” doesn’t appear on a pretrial witness lists, and could invoke protections against self-incrimination if pressed. His trail date has not been set.
Baldwin has said he pulled back the gun’s hammer — not the trigger — and the weapon fired. He was indicted by a grand jury in January.
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.
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.
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.