01 August 2023

Judge refuses to dismiss charges against armourer in Baldwin film set shooting

01 August 2023

A New Mexico judge told lawyers to “stay the course” on charges including involuntary manslaughter against a movie weapons supervisor in the 2021 shooting death of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin during a rehearsal for the film Rust.

The ruling from Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer on Tuesday rejecting a request from the defence to dismiss charges sets the stage for lengthy evidentiary hearings, starting next week, on manslaughter and evidence-tampering charges against movie armourer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.

She is the sole remaining defendant in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the filming of Rust on October 21, 2021.

In April prosecutors dropped charges against Baldwin, who was pointing a gun at Hutchins when it went off, killing her and injuring director Joel Souza. This left Gutierrez-Reed as the sole remaining defendant in the case. If convicted, she faces up to three years in prison.

A lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed argued unsuccessfully on Tuesday that the case had been compromised by changes in the prosecution team earlier this year, sloppiness with evidence and public statements by prosecutors that might interfere with the right to an impartial jury.

The judge rejected the arguments and sided with prosecutors, who urged the court to move forward with a preliminary hearing that will decide whether evidence is sufficient to advance to trial.

Prosecutors have said charges still could be refiled against Baldwin pending further investigation, including an ongoing independent examination by a firearms expert.

The investigation is looking into the revolver involved in the fatal shooting, and other weapons and ammunition seized from the set of Rust.

Authorities have not yet determined how live ammunition found its way into the .45-caliber revolver made by an Italian company that specialises in 19th century reproductions.

Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. He said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired.

In April prosecutors commissioned additional weapons testing to investigate whether the hammer of the gun used in the fatal shooting may have been intentionally modified.

“We don’t have the firearms report yet, although they told me that it’s forthcoming. I hope to have it by the end of the week,” special prosecutor Kari Morrissey said on Tuesday.

“The causation issues as they relate to Mr Baldwin and the functionality of the firearm do not create causation problems for Ms Gutierrez. That is our legal opinion.”

An August FBI report on the agency’s analysis of the gun found that, as is common with firearms of that design, it could go off without pulling the trigger if force was applied to an uncocked hammer — such as by dropping the weapon.

The only way the testers could get it to fire was by striking the gun with a mallet while the hammer was down and resting on the cartridge, or by pulling the trigger while it was fully cocked. The gun eventually broke during the testing.

Separately, prosecutors withdrew a motion to shield the name of a witness from public disclosure as they pursue an evidence-tampering charge against Gutierrez-Reed.

They indicated on Tuesday that a witness is prepared to testify that Gutierrez-Reed handed off a small bag of narcotics to the witness after returning from an interview at a police station.

In previous court filings, prosecutors said the witness was worried about being harassed by media and blacklisted in the entertainment industry.

“She has agreed not to pursue a protective order,” Ms Morrissey said of the witness.

Defence lawyer Jason Bowles has called the evidence-tampering charge a vindictive attempt at “character assassination” by prosecutors.

In March Rust safety coordinator and assistant director David Halls pleaded no contest to a charge of unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months’ probation.

He agreed to co-operate in the investigation of the fatal shooting and is listed as a possible witness in evidentiary hearings next week to decide whether the case can advance towards trial.

The filming of Rust resumed in April in Montana under an agreement with the cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, that makes him an executive producer.

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