Closing Arguments In ‘Rust’ Armorer’s Involuntary Manslaughter Trial Set For Wednesday; Case Could Be With Jury Tomorrow – Update

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UPDATE, 2:37 PM: Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s fate out of the fatal October 2021 shooting of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins could be decided before the end of the week.

The armorer’s involuntary manslaughter trial could go to the jury for deliberations as soon as Wednesday, it was revealed at the end of Tuesday’s testimony in the Santa Fe County courthouse.

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“You can expect closing arguments to commence tomorrow morning,” Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer told the courtroom Tuesday before releasing jurors after a grueling but shorter-than-expected day. “Not right away — the defense is still putting on their case — but when the defense is finished, then we will do closing arguments.”

Gutierrez-Reed is charged with involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering and faces up to three years in state prison if found guilty by the jury of seven women and five men.

With closing arguments from Special Prosecutors Kerri Morrissey and Jason Lewis first and then the defense-led Jason Bowles anticipated to take only a couple of hours, the trial is well ahead of Sommer’s desired deadline of getting the case to the jury by March 8.

Taking jury precedent into account — many jurors prefer to deliver a verdict before a weekend — if the case goes to the panel by the end of Wednesday, it is not unreasonable to assume a decision could come by Friday.

Having started her trial on February 2 after pleading not guilty, Gutierrez-Reed soon will be followed by Alec Baldwin in the same Land of Enchantment courthouse. The Rust actor-producer and always has said he did not pull the trigger on the Colt .45 he was holding that fired and killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza that fall day over two years ago.

Recharged with involuntary manslaughter himself in January and having entered a not guilty plea not long afterward, Baldwin potentially is looking at 18 months behind bars if found guilty. The multi-Emmy winner also faces a plethora of civil cases related to the Rust tragedy in California and New Mexico courts.

PREVIOUSLY, 12:56 PM: Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s trial for involuntary manslaughter in the fatal 2021 shooting of Rust cinematographer Halyna Hutchins could see an industry veteran take the stand later this week.

Mentioned repeatedly since Gutierrez-Reed’s long-delayed trial began February 22, the defendant’s stepfather Thell Reed was in the Santa Fe County courthouse Tuesday. Whether today or in the next few days, the defense plans on calling the Once Upon a Time in Hollywood crew member as a part of its case, sources tell me.

With Gutierrez-Reed charged with involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering, and facing up to three years if found guilty, Reed’s testimony could be crucial for the defense. Lead defense attorney Jason Bowles did not respond to request for comment on Reed’s potential testimony.

Despite subsequent findings to the contrary by the FBI and independent investigators, Rust star-producer Alec Baldwin has always insisted he did not pull the trigger on the Colt .45 that killed Hutchins during rehearsals at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set on October 21, 2021. Since that time, no one has been able to definitively prove how live rounds got on the set of the indie Western – though there are plenty of theories.

An alum of flicks like Quentin Tarantino’s Oscar-winning Once Upon a Time, 3:10 to Yuma, Django Unchained and L.A. Confidential to name a few over his multi-decade career, acclaimed sharpshooter and gun coach Reed has actually been mentioned frequently in the case since 2021 as well as during the trial. It was Reed’s long career and status in the industry that has been seen in no small part as how Gutierrez-Reed got her first job as an armorer on the Nick Cage movie The Old Way and then Rust.

“She knows what to do,” Reed told ABC News of Gutierrez-Reed after the 2021 shooting that killed Hutchins and injured Rust director Joel Souza. “She does the job as good as I do now.” In that sit-down, Reed also postulated that there was “sabotage” involved on the Rust set, adding that if his stepdaughter had actually been in the church set during the rehearsal involving Baldwin, Hutchins and others, the accident likely wouldn’t have occurred.

Thell Reed & Hannah Gutierrez-Reed
Thell Reed & Hannah Gutierrez-Reed

On March 4, Rust ammunition supplier Seth Kenney testified for the prosecution in part about his relationship with Reed, the industry veteran’s skills, and the use of ammo that may have been used by Gutierrez-Reed.

Near the end of his testimony, Kenney told Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer’s courtroom that he believed the 81-year-old Reed was trying to pin the blame on him for how live ammo got on the Rust set. “Knowing Thell and having been friends with him for a few years at that point, I know how much he loves his daughter,” Kenney testified.

The prosecution rested its case at the end of Monday’s session; the defense began its presentation Tuesday morning. Its first witness was Lorenzo Montoya, an OSHA Compliance Officer, who was questioned by relatively new defense attorney Monnica Barreras. Montoya was on the Rust set in the aftermath of the October 2021 shooting and was a key part of OSHA’s investigation of the accident. In his testimony today, Montoya told the court that the OSHA conclusion was “the management team was responsible for a series of failures that in our opinion culminated” in the shooting accident.

The defense attempted to use Montoya’s testimony to impress upon the jury that OSHA concluded Gutierrez-Reed was not provided “time to conduct her duties to the best of her diligence” and asked to “focus on other tasks” like working in the props department.

“Rust Movie Productions identified a hazard and adopted a firearm safety policy but totally failed to enforce,” Montoya testified today. “They adopted it and stopped at the words adopted and nothing more happened.”

In 2022, the New Mexico OSHA office issued a civil penalty to Rust Productions for $136,793, which was reduced to $100,000 in early 2023 after a protest from the indie Western’s producers.

Montoya also said today that Rust producers violated safety procedures by not giving Gutierrez-Reed the time or authority for proper firearms training for the actors and inventorying ammunition. In her deductive questioning, Barreras made sure the jury knew that Gutierrez-Reed’s expressed concerns about this went “unheeded and uncommented on” by first assistant director David Halls, who was ultimately supposed to be responsible for safety and other vital management. The production was “indifferent” to the requirements and measures needed for the use of firearms, the OSHA official stated.

A witness for the prosecution, Halls took a plea deal in the Rust case, declaring no contest to a negligence misdemeanor charge. As part of the deal, he was given six months probation, a $500 fine and ordered to take a safety class. Since retired from the industry after a long career, Halls now says he did not hand the gun to Baldwin that killed Hutchins — though a number of witness, including Baldwin initially, say otherwise.

Fellow OSHA official Robert Genoway testified later today that in his opinion Gutierrez-Reed was not given the proper authority nor time to do her armorer job. In a well-documented effort to save money, the producers on the $7 million-budgeted Rust had Gutierrez-Reed doing double duty as armorer and as assistant to props master Sarah Zachery.

On cross of both Montoya and Genoway, the prosecution pointed out that OSHA does not conduct criminal investigations, and it did not have access to police reports and other material. Both Montoya and Genoway agreed but indicated that fact would not have altered the final OSHA report.

Before the jury of five women and seven men were brought in Tuesday, Judge Sommer dealt with some self-described “housekeeping matters” and heard motions. In particular, the defense put forth a motion for a directed verdict based on what they cited as a lack of evidence by the prosecution.

Specifically, in what is a pretty standard move as a case shifts from the prosecution to the defense, the motion urged the case against the ex-armorer to be tossed because the state hadn’t been able to prove Gutierrez-Reed had brought the live ammunition onto the Rust set.

The judge denied that motion, as well as an effort by the special prosecutors to remove the word “cocaine” from the evidence tampering charge against Gutierrez-Reed. After pressing uncertain witnesses the past few days about the evidence of a small bag of white powder Gutierrez-Reed allegedly had during Rust filming, the prosecution sought to have the term altered to the much more ambiguous “suspected controlled substance.” Knowing this has become a weak spot for the prosecution, with anecdotal evidence at best, the defense objected. Sommer denied the request and the specific term “cocaine” remains on the charge.

As of now, Sommer and all parties anticipate the case going to the jury March 8. That being a Friday, and based on judicial precedent of sorts, there is some expectation that the jurors could come to a potentially quicker verdict to avoid having to come back the next week.

Regardless of how long Gutierrez-Reed’s jury deliberates, Rust will be back in the Santa Fe County courthouse fairly soon, iwith Baldwin’s trial for involuntary manslaughter scheduled to start July 9. Having entered a plea of not guilty soon after being recharged this year, the Rust star-producer faces a potential 18 months behind bars and fines if found guilty.

The Santa Fe County courtroom was hearing from a private investigator for the defense before the trial broke for lunch today.

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