‘Rust’ Trial Begins With Prosecutor Faulting Armorer’s ‘Sloppy’ Conduct

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SANTA FE, N.M. — The trial of “Rust” armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed began Thursday with prosecutor Jason Lewis arguing that her “sloppy” and “unprofessional” conduct led to the death of the film’s cinematographer.

In his opening statement, Lewis argued that Gutierrez Reed had twice failed to properly check ammunition that she loaded into Alec Baldwin’s gun.

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The cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, was killed when Baldwin fired a live round during blocking for a scene in October 2021.

“The defendant treated the safety protocols as if they were optional rather than as if people’s lives counted on her doing her job correctly,” Lewis argued. “By failing to make those vital safety checks, the defendant acted negligently and without due caution. The decision she made that day contributed to Ms. Hutchins’ death.”

Gutierrez Reed is on trial for involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering. She faces up to three years in prison if convicted.

Her defense lawyer, Jason Bowles, argued in his opening statement that Gutierrez Reed has been made a scapegoat for errors by Baldwin, the production, and others on set. He argued that Baldwin should not have pointed the gun at Hutchins, and that Baldwin failed to get proper training in how to perform a cross-draw.

He also said that, as the film’s star and one of its producers, Baldwin “really controlled the set.”

“What they’re trying to do, and what you’re seeing in this courtroom today, is blame it all on Hannah, the 24-year-old,” Bowles said. “Why? Because she’s an easy target. She’s the least powerful person on set.”

Baldwin is expected to go on trial this summer on a separate charge of involuntary manslaughter.

Six live rounds were found on the set. Lewis also argued that Gutierrez Reed was responsible for bringing those rounds. Lewis showed the jury a photo of Gutierrez Reed, taken 11 days before the shooting, in which a box of dummy ammunition is sitting on her lap. He said that at least one of the rounds in the box was live, noting that it had a silver primer.

Lewis said that the production received another shipment of dummy rounds two days later from someone else. He argued that the photo shows that the live rounds came from Gutierrez Reed — and not that other source.

Countering that argument, Bowles said that several dummy rounds on set also had silver primers — making it impossible to tell by looking at it whether a bullet is live or inert.

“You cannot tell a live round from a dummy by a picture,” Bowles said.

In his opening, Bowles relied heavily on the conclusions of a workplace safety investigation, which faulted the production for numerous safety violations, and did not point the finger at Gutierrez Reed.

He argued that the production’s focus was: “rush, get this done, get the money.”

Bowles said that Gutierrez Reed was forced to perform two jobs — props assistant and armorer — and that she was stretched too thin, given the amount of weapons on set. In an email prior to the shooting, Gutierrez Reed asked for more time to work as an armorer, but was refused.

In his opening, Lewis did not raise another prosecution theory, that Gutierrez Reed was hungover or otherwise impaired on set. The prosecutors have made much of Gutierrez Reed’s alleged marijuana use in pre-trial filings. In a pre-trial ruling, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer allowed the prosecution to introduce some images and text messages referencing drug use, but not others.

On the tampering charge, Gutierrez Reed is accused of handing off a baggie of cocaine to a fellow crew member on the night after the shooting. Lewis laid out the evidence for that charge in his opening statement, but Bowles did not address it.

The trial is expected to last at least two weeks. Among the witnesses expected to testify are Joel Souza, the film’s director, who was struck in the shoulder by the live bullet; David Halls, the first assistant director, who pleaded to a misdemeanor charge for negligent handling of a gun; and Thell Reed, the defendant’s stepfather and a veteran Hollywood armorer.

After the opening statements, the prosecution called to the stand two deputies who were among the first to respond to the shooting. The witnesses, Deputy Nicholas LeFleur and Lt. Tim Benavidez, testified to the chaotic scene they found at the Bonanza Creek Ranch. About 200 people were on site, and paramedics were working to tend to Hutchins and Souza.

Benavidez collected the gun and two boxes of dummy ammunition, while LeFleur worked to figure out who had been inside the church building when the shooting happened.

On cross-examination, defense attorney Todd Bullion faulted the deputies for not separating the witnesses, suggesting that may have contaminated their witness accounts. LeFleur acknowledged that in hindsight, there were several things he should have done differently, such as keeping the witnesses further apart and confiscating their phones.

Benavidez noted that initially, there were only three deputies on scene, but said that the deputies had done the best they could to preserve evidence.

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