Prosecution opens its case against ‘Rust’ armorer accused of ‘negligent acts, failures’

By Thomson Reuters Feb 22, 2024 | 11:58 AM

By Andrew Hay

SANTA FE, N.M. (Reuters) – A New Mexico prosecutor on Thursday accused the chief weapons handler for Western “Rust” Hannah Gutierrez of acting negligently, holding her responsible for the 2021 fatal shooting of the film’s cinematographer Halyna Hutchins by actor Alec Baldwin.

Gutierrez, 27, listened calmly to the prosecution’s opening statements in her involuntary manslaughter trial. She is accused of bringing live rounds on set – an act strictly forbidden for nearly a century.

She has pleaded not guilty and her lawyers will tell the jury of five women and seven men that she is the scapegoat for a chaotic, low-budget production where she was overworked and Baldwin and others ignored safety procedures.

Hutchins died when Gutierrez loaded a live round into a reproduction Colt. 45 “Peacemaker” revolver that Baldwin was rehearsing with on a Santa Fe film set, mistaking it for a dummy round. Baldwin was holding the gun when it fired the bullet that passed through Hutchins and hit director Joel Souza, who survived.

Charges were dropped against Baldwin last April only to be reinstated Jan. 19. His lawyers are seeking a June trial. Baldwin, who was also one of the “Rust” producers, has denied responsibility, saying weapons safety was not his job.

The death of Hutchins was the first on-set fatal shooting since actor Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old son of the late martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, died in 1993 while filming a movie when his colleague shot him with a bullet unknowingly lodged in the barrel of a revolver.

“We believe it was the negligent acts and failures of the defendant Miss Gutierrez that contributed to Miss Hutchins’ death and the live rounds being brought onto the set,” said special prosecutor Jason Lewis, appointed nearly a year ago after two predecessors resigned following a series of legal missteps.

Gutierrez has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge as well as one of evidence tampering for allegedly handing off a bag of cocaine to a crew member on Oct. 21, 2021 after the shooting to stop police finding it. Each felony charge carries up to 18 months prison time.

The prosecution has alleged Gutierrez’s drug use on evenings after filming meant she may have been hung over at work and unable to spot the difference between live and dummy rounds.

Lewis showed evidence photos that showed live rounds found on set had shiny nickel primers, or end caps, while the dummies had dull brass primers and looked aged. The dummies had ball bearings inside that rattle when shaken.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay; editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)