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FBI analyst describes damage to Alec Baldwin’s ‘Rust’ gun in Hannah Gutierrez trial

FBI analyst describes damage to Alec Baldwin’s ‘Rust’ gun in Hannah Gutierrez trial
FBI analyst describes damage to Alec Baldwin’s ‘Rust’ gun in Hannah Gutierrez trial

New Mexico prosecutors attempting to prove that Alec Baldwin was criminally negligent in the fatal shooting of the “Rust” movie cinematographer must grapple with a complicating piece of evidence: a damaged gun.

Baldwin has long maintained that he did not pull the trigger of his prop gun — a Colt .45 revolver — on Oct. 21, 2021, while rehearsing a scene on the movie set outside Santa Fe, N.M. Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was standing a few feet away when Baldwin’s gun discharged, firing a lead bullet that fatally struck her in the chest. The shot also injured film’s director, Joel Souza, who recovered from his wound.

A month after the accident, Baldwin told ABC News anchor George Stephanopoulos: “I didn’t pull the trigger. … I would never point a gun at anyone and pull the trigger at them.”

Persistent questions about the gun’s condition at the time of the shooting have proved to be thorny for prosecutors. Baldwin’s defense team has suggested the actor’s prop gun was faulty and may have malfunctioned, leading to its discharge — a theory that is expected to be a centerpiece of the actor’s defense. His lawyers have pointed to the weapon’s failure during testing to support Baldwin’s recollection of his role in the tragic shooting.

Last month, a Santa Fe County grand jury indicted Baldwin on involuntary manslaughter charges. If convicted, the 65-year-old actor could serve up to 18 months in prison. On Monday, New Mexico First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer scheduled Baldwin’s trial to begin with jury selection on July 9.

However, two ballistics experts have cast doubt on Baldwin’s claims, including an FBI forensic examiner who testified Monday in the criminal trial of Hannah Gutierrez, the “Rust” armorer who loaded the actor’s weapon that day. Gutierrez is facing involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering charges in connection with the “Rust” shooting. This week’s testimony, in a Santa Fe County courtroom, comes as New Mexico special prosecutors look to fortify their felony cases against Gutierrez and Baldwin.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to the charges. His trial is expected to last eight days.

On Monday, the third day of Gutierrez’s trial, FBI forensic examiner Bryce Ziegler took the stand.

Ziegler testified that he was responsible for damaging the gun during testing at the FBI Laboratory in Quantico, Va., nearly two years ago.

The FBI analyst said Monday that he performed a rigorous set of tests, including striking Baldwin’s prop gun several times with a “rawhide mallet.”

Ziegler said he used the rawhide mallet to strike the gun, while the hammer was pulled back, from several directions. The tests were intended to determine whether bumping or jostling the weapon would result in a discharge. He said he was trying to simulate scenarios for the gun to go off — without the handler pulling the trigger.

During that test, he broke several components of the gun. The fractured parts included the tip of the trigger, the sear and the hammer.

Hannah Gutierrez, left, with her attorney Jason Bowles, leaves New Mexico’s First District Court, last week after jury selection in her trial on involuntary manslaughter charges.

(Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

Ziegler said he was only able to get the gun to fire during two of the tests, including at the fully cocked hammer position. “Some of the internal components of the firearm actually broke to allow that hammer to fall and fire the primed cartridge case,” Ziegler said.

Baldwin’s attorneys, through a spokesperson, declined to comment on the testimony.

Ziegler testified that the gun damage occurred during his testing at the FBI Lab.

“It was functioning normally when I received it,” Ziegler testified Monday. “As a result of the testing, it was damaged.”

Ziegler was one of three FBI experts who testified during Gutierrez’s trial on Monday. The proceedings were broadcast by Court TV.

The “Rust” weapons and ammunition provider, Seth Kenney, testified during a deposition last year that the gun — an Italian-made pistol designed to look like a vintage 1873 single-action revolver — was fully functional when he sent it to the production. Kenney has said that he purchased the gun for “Rust.”

But, for the prosecutors, the fractured gun parts have raised nettlesome questions about the integrity of the firearm. Special prosecutors separately hired an Arizona gun expert to review the broken pieces, among other evidence, and determine whether the gun was faulty during the “Rust” production.

That expert, Lucien C. Haag, studied the gun and rebuilt it with new parts. “The trigger had to be pulled or depressed sufficiently to release the fully cocked or retracted hammer of the evidence revolver,” Haag wrote in his August 2023 report.

Baldwin maintains that it wasn’t his job to inspect the revolver to make sure the bullets inside were inert “dummy” rounds. That position was affirmed by SAG-AFTRA, the performers union that includes Baldwin. When Baldwin was handed the gun, he was told that it was “cold,” meaning it had no ammunition.

However, the gun contained five so-called dummy rounds and one live bullet.

“Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe there was a live bullet in the gun — or anywhere on the movie set,” his attorney Nikas said previously. “He relied on the professionals with whom he worked, who assured him the gun did not have live rounds. We will fight these charges, and we will win.”

Gutierrez, the armorer, told sheriff’s investigators that she loaded the gun but thought all of the bullets inside were dummies. Special prosecutor Jason J. Lewis, in his opening statement, last week said the trial would feature “Rust” crew members who would testify that Gutierrez was “sloppy” and “unprofessional.”

Gutierrez’s attorney, Jason Bowles, disputed the characterization, saying the young armorer was being made “a scapegoat” by prosecutors and film producers looking to find blame for Hutchins’ tragic death. The film set had other issues, including a walk-off by camera crew members.

“What you are seeing in this courtroom today, is trying to blame it all on Hannah, the 24-year-old,” Bowles said during his opening statement on Thursday. “Why? Because she’s an easy target. She was the least powerful person on that set.”

Gutierrez has pleaded not guilty. Her trial is expected to last through March 6.

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