06 March 2024

Jury retires in trial of weapons supervisor charged over Rust shooting

06 March 2024

A jury has retired to consider whether a movie weapons supervisor should be held to blame over the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin on the set of a Western movie.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, 24, who was working on her second feature film at the time of the 2021 shooting, has pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering at a trial in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The proceedings are a precursor to the trial of Baldwin on a single charge of involuntary manslaughter which is scheduled for July.

Baldwin, who has pleaded not guilty, was pointing a revolver at cinematographer Halyna Hutchins when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

Prosecutors say Gutierrez-Reed unknowingly brought live ammunition on to the set of Rust at a ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe, where the rounds stayed for at least 12 days until the fatal shooting.

Delivering her closing arguments, prosecutor Kari Morrissey described “constant, never-ending safety failures” on the set of Rust and Gutierrez-Reed’s “astonishing lack of diligence” with gun safety.

“We end exactly where we began — in the pursuit of justice for Halyna Hutchins,” Ms Morrissey told the jury. “Hannah Gutierrez failed to maintain firearms safety, making a fatal accident wilful and foreseeable.”

Prosecutors contend the armourer repeatedly skipped or skimped on standard gun-safety protocols that might have detected live rounds on set.

“This was a game of Russian roulette every time an actor had a gun with dummies,” Ms Morrissey said.

Defence lawyers contend problems on the movie set extended far beyond Gutierrez-Reed’s control, including the mishandling of weapons by Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer who crew members were loath to confront.

They say prosecutors have not come close to proving where live ammunition originated, failing to fully investigate an Albuquerque-based ammunition supplier.

Dozens of witnesses testified over the course of 10 days of the trial, running the gamut from FBI experts in firearms and crime-scene forensics to a camera dolly operator who described the fatal gunshot and Hutchins’ collapse.

The prosecution has painstakingly assembled photographic evidence they say traces the arrival and spread of live rounds on set, using testimony from eyewitnesses to the shooting, including Souza, to reconstruct the day it happened on October 21 2021.

Prosecutors say six live rounds found on the Rust set bear mostly identical characteristics — and do not match live rounds seized from the movie’s supplier in Albuquerque.

Defence attorneys say the cluttered supply office was not searched until a month after the fatal shooting, undermining the significance of physical evidence there.

A second charge against Gutierrez-Reed of evidence tampering stems from accusations that she handed a small bag of possible narcotics to another crew member after the shooting to avoid detection.

The felony charges against Gutierrez-Reed carry a possible sentence of up to thee years in prison.

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