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‘Rust’ shooting: Hannah Gutierrez guilty of involuntary manslaughter

‘Rust’ shooting: Hannah Gutierrez guilty of involuntary manslaughter
‘Rust’ shooting: Hannah Gutierrez guilty of involuntary manslaughter

A New Mexico jury has found “Rust” movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez guilty of involuntary manslaughter in the 2021 accidental shooting death of the cinematographer on the troubled Alec Baldwin western.

Wednesday’s verdict in Santa Fe came after about two hours of deliberation by the 12-person jury. Earlier in the day, jurors were asked to review evidence presented during Gutierrez’s 10-day trial to determine whether she had acted recklessly, or with “willful disregard” for the safety of others, while overseeing guns and ammunition on the set of the movie nearly two and a half years ago.

The 26-year-old Arizona woman faces up to 18 months in prison for her role in the death of photography director Halyna Hutchins.

The jury was dismissed after the jury forewoman read the verdict and other jurors confirmed their votes. The special prosecutor asked that Gutierrez be taken into custody immediately. New Mexico First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer agreed, and a court deputy escorted Gutierrez out a side door of the courtroom.

Family members became emotional. Gutierrez remained solemn, even as she placed her wrists behind her back.

She had been charged with involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering. The jury found her not guilty of evidence tampering.

The verdict was read shortly after special prosecutors and attorneys for Gutierrez finished presenting their cases.

“Hannah Gutierrez loaded live ammunition into a firearm,” special prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey told the jury, alleging that Gutierrez had failed to discover six live bullets on the movie set. “The astonishing lack of diligence with regard to gun safety is, without question, a significant cause of the death of Halyna Hutchins.”

The shooting drew worldwide attention, largely because of Baldwin’s stature in Hollywood and as a political lightning rod. The high-profile case shined a harsh light on film set safety, particularly on low budget-productions. Hours before the fatal shooting, “Rust” camera crew members had walked off the job to protest safety concerns and lack of nearby housing. Hutchins’ death underscored the dangers of using lethal weapons on sets.

Gutierrez long ago acknowledged loading Baldwin’s gun with what she thought were inert “dummy” rounds. Baldwin has described how he was practicing an upcoming scene by pointing his prop pistol — a fully functioning Colt .45 revolver — at Hutchins, unaware that an actual bullet was one of six rounds packed inside the chamber.

Beyond airing allegations that Gutierrez was inattentive, “sloppy” and lacked respect from crew members and producers, prosecutors produced fresh details about Baldwin’s behind-the-scenes actions. During questioning of a key witness, defense attorney Jason Bowles said the prominent actor’s on-set conduct suggested he was “running the show. … He’s the big boss.”

Baldwin, who was indicted by a Santa Fe County grand jury in January on an involuntary manslaughter charge, is scheduled to go on trial in July. If convicted, he faces 18 months in prison. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty and has denied pulling the trigger.

Special prosecutors didn’t wait for Baldwin’s upcoming trial to produce evidence about his actions during the “Rust” filming as they presented their case against Gutierrez.

“The prosecution showed solid evidence that this [movie shooting] was not just an accident but that set was an accident waiting to happen,” Los Angeles trial attorney David Ring, who is not involved in the “Rust” matter, said in an interview. “They put on a very compelling case that Ms. Gutierrez was unfit for the job.”

Bowles, in contrast, said Gutierrez was “the convenient fall person.”

“Justice for Halyna does not mean injustice for Hannah,” Bowles told the jury. “Management was responsible for safety failures, and not Hannah.”

Here’s what we learned during the first criminal trial stemming from the “Rust” movie shooting:

Hannah Gutierrez looks up in the courtroom.

Hannah Gutierrez, center, sits with her attorney Jason Bowles, left, during the first day of testimony in the trial against her in Santa Fe.

(Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journa)

Crew members saw Baldwin as the boss

Baldwin was one of more than a dozen producers on “Rust,” and he received a co-credit for writing the screenplay. Director Joel Souza, who was injured by the same bullet that killed Hutchins, testified last week that Baldwin initially hired him to pen the script for the film, which initially had a $7.5-million budget.

After Hutchins’ death, filming halted in New Mexico. Baldwin and others finished the movie last spring in Montana.

Baldwin previously has downplayed his on-set authority, saying that although he had input on creative decisions, he didn’t make recommendations on hiring crew members. Production managers handled logistics, including hiring Gutierrez and inexperienced prop master Sarah Zachry — just days before pre-production on “Rust” began at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a well-known movie location near Santa Fe.

Several witnesses testified that the 65-year-old actor, known for roles on “Saturday Night Live,” “30 Rock” and “The Hunt for Red October,” was a towering presence. That view was bolstered by behind-the-scenes footage that prosecutors subpoenaed.

In one video, Baldwin, dressed in character as the outlaw Harland Rust, bursts from a wooden shack carrying two weapons and fires his long-barreled prop pistol. Baldwin says he wants to do another take, and shouts to Gutierrez to quickly reload his gun.

“One more, one more, one more,” Baldwin says on the video. “Right away, right away. Let’s reload.”

Gutierrez can be seen racing to grab Baldwin’s pistol, which she quickly loads with blank ammunition pulled from her gray fanny pack.

Concerns about safety

Such behavior by actors is not typical on movie sets, according to a key prosecution witness, Bryan Carpenter, who was not on the set of “Rust.”

“He’s basically instructing the armorer how to do their job,” testified Carpenter, a former law enforcement officer and a Mississippi-based film armorer who has worked on dozens of movies.

“This is that moment that you need to stop and say: ‘No, I’m not going to hurry up. I’m going to slow down,’” Carpenter said.

Attorneys representing Baldwin, through a spokesperson, did not comment on the video or testimony.

Dolly grip operator Ross Addiego testified the “Rust” set was chaotic. He said he complained to an assistant director before the fatal shooting that filming had been rushed to a “ludicrous” level.

“I expressed my frustration and anger that safety appeared to be secondary to the production clock,” Addiego said. Still shaken by the shooting, Addiego blamed Baldwin, Gutierrez and the film’s producers for his friend’s death.

Bowles challenged Addiego, saying that if “grown men” didn’t stand up to Baldwin, then how could a 24-year-old armorer, who was working on only her second film in charge of guns and ammunition?

“I don’t recall anybody standing up to Mr. Baldwin on the set of ‘Rust,’” Addiego testified.

“He’s running the show,” Bowles said. “He’s the big boss.”

Guns pointed at cameras

Stills photographer Karen Kuehn, who spent several days on set, testified this week that Baldwin appeared more powerful than other producers.

“Did it appear to you that Alec Baldwin was the boss?” defense attorney Monnica Barreras asked.

“Yes,” Kuehn replied.

Kuehn also testified that producers had tasked her with obtaining dramatic photographs of gun muzzles. She said “a junior producer” on the film had “emphasized that I should get as many shots of guns pointed into the camera as possible.”

‘I can’t feel my legs’

On Oct. 21, 2021, Hutchins and Baldwin were in a rustic wooden chapel at Bonanza Creek Ranch, preparing for a scene before a shoot-out in the church between Baldwin’s character and two marshals. Technicians had wired special effects “poppers” into the ceiling, to simulate gunfire.

Others were busy working with their gear. The photography team was short-staffed that day after a walk-off by most of the camera crew to protest safety concerns, including the lack of nearby lodging for them.

Baldwin has said Hutchins wanted a close-up of the muzzle of Baldwin’s gun.

Souza testified that this wasn’t initially the plan. The scene was supposed to be a “technical” shot of Baldwin, sitting on a pew, simply pulling the gun from his leather shoulder holster, Souza said. Script supervisor Mamie Mitchell also testified the gun close-up wasn’t in the script.

Addiego said he saw Baldwin pulling the gun from his holster once, then a second time.

That’s when the gun “went off,” Addiego said.

Hutchins was about 2 to 3 feet away. The bullet pierced her chest and exited her back, lodging in Souza’s shoulder. He cried out in pain. Addiego testified that he attended to Souza as two others, including a gaffer, who like Hutchins was a native of Ukraine, lowered Hutchins to the floor of the church.

“She said: ‘I can’t feel my legs,’” assistant director David Halls recalled during his testimony as he choked up. Halls, who was the film’s safety coordinator, last year pleaded no contest to a charge of negligent use of a firearm. He served a suspended six-month sentence of probation.

Because of the remote location, it took at least 20 minutes for paramedics to arrive at the scene, and more than an hour for paramedics to “stabilize” Hutchins so a helicopter could fly her to an Albuquerque trauma center. Hutchins died of blood loss due to the gunshot wound, New Mexico’s chief medical investigator, Heather Jarrell, testified. The bullet also destroyed one lung.

Legal experts said Morrissey’s decision to introduce testimony about Baldwin’s actions appeared to be tactical.

“The prosecutors — and we have good special prosecutors here — understand that public trust is important,” said University of New Mexico law professor Joshua Kastenberg.

Testimony about Baldwin appeared to partially support Gutierrez’s contention that her authority as armorer had been diminished, Kastenberg said, adding that prosecutors appeared to anticipate the defense strategy.

“If you are upfront at the beginning of the case, then it won’t appear to the jury that you’re hiding anything,” Kastenberg said.

Morrissey addressed the issue Wednesday, saying Baldwin’s gun usage, particularly the day of the shooting, was problematic.

“Alec Baldwin’s conduct and his lack of gun safety inside that church on that day is something that he’s going to have to answer for,” Morrissey said, adding, “That will be with another jury on another day. … You don’t escape accountability.”

Alec Baldwin stands on the "Rust" set.

In an image from a deputy’s lapel-camera video, Alec Baldwin speaks with investigators following the fatal shooting on Oct. 21, 2021.

(Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office / Associated Press)

Since the days after the shooting, Gutierrez’s defense team has stressed that Gutierrez was struggling to perform two key roles: armorer and props assistant.

Multiple witnesses said that Gutierrez should not have been assigned dual jobs. The role of armorer should have been paramount, they said.

New Mexico Occupational Safety and Health Bureau investigator Lorenzo Montoya, who investigated Hutchins’ death, testified the state agency cited Rust Movie Productions for creating an unsafe workplace by not giving Gutierrez sufficient time to attend to her armorer duties, including taking an inventory of the guns and bullets on set.

Bowles pointed to the Occupational Safety finding, saying Gutierrez was a “scapegoat” for the mistakes of others.

Unflattering testimony came from Rebecca Smith, a crew member whom Morrissey discovered last fall while studying Gutierrez’s text messages, which had been turned over to sheriff’s deputies in late 2021 to cooperate with the investigation.

Smith, who ran craft services on the movie, was called to Gutierrez’s hotel room in Santa Fe the night of the accident because crew members were worried about the armorer. Smith sat with Gutierrez until sheriff’s deputies arrived for a welfare check. Smith testified that Gutierrez handed her a plastic bag, which contained another small baggie that contained a white powder that she believed to be cocaine. Smith said she tossed the bag in the nearest trash can.

Gutierrez was charged with evidence tampering, a felony, for passing off alleged cocaine.

Morrissey closed the case, saying Gutierrez consistently failed in her job to ensure gun safety on set. She pointed to video from the accident scene, in which Gutierrez expresses concerns about whether she would still have a film career.

“That gives you an idea that you’re dealing with someone who is not particularly concerned about the health and safety of others,” Morrissey said.

Six actual lead bullets were found on set, including the one that Baldwin fired.

Morrissey alleged Gutierrez brought the bullets with her to the “Rust” set soon after she joined the production. The live rounds were on set at least from Oct. 10, 2021, and Gutierrez “failed to ferret them out for 12 days,” Morrissey alleged.

“This was a game of Russian roulette every time an actor had a gun with dummies,” Morrissey said. “I’m not telling you that Hannah Gutierrez intended to bring live rounds on set. I’m telling you that she was negligent. She was careless. She was thoughtless.”

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