“Rust” Armorer Trial Begins

Jury selection for the state’s case against Hannah Gutierrez-Reed happened mostly behind closed doors during first day

A jury is ready to hear arguments in the state’s case against Hannah Gutierrez-Reed—the former Rust armorer facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the Oct. 21, 2021, fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, as well as a felony charge for alleged evidence tampering.

Prospective jurors fielded several questions, such as “Have you heard or seen anything about this case?”; “Will you base your verdict on sympathy?”; and “Is there any prejudgement to Gutierrez-Reed’s constitutional presumed innocence?”

“We need a fair and impartial jury, and it’s important that Miss Gutierrez gets a fair and impartial trial,” Special Prosecutor Kari Morrissey said before the state began its first round of questions, adding media coverage can affect the process and “frequently the press gets it wrong.”

And there’s certainly been a lot of press. The trial for Gutierrez-Reed unfolds months before Rust star and producer Alec Baldwin will face a jury for his role in Hutchins’ death: Gutierrez-Reed may have supplied the bullets, but prosecutors say Baldwin pulled the trigger. Reuters, Rolling Stone, the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, the BBC, USA Today and all the major networks are among those to carry the story this week.

Media interest in Gutierrez-Reed’s case proved high enough to require a lottery system for those organizations wanting to cover the trial from the courthouse in downtown Santa Fe—more than 20 were included in pool arrangement emails for the jury selection. CourtTV will livestream the trial daily, which SFR will also stream throughout ongoing proceedings.

The judge, alongside attorneys, narrowed the group of prospective jurors from 70 to 16—12 jurors and four alternates. Of those, seven are male and five are female. The four alternates are also male.

Attorneys focused mostly on major media attention; emotions; the burden of proof; and doubt of presumed innocence during the jury selection. Morrissey asked jurors if they would base their verdict on sympathy given Gutierrez-Reed’s age—she was 24 at the time of the incident.

“It will be hard not to factor in age or experience,” one empaneled juror said. “I would try, but I don’t know.”

Defense Attorney Jason Bowles, for example, noted that while a verdict can’t be entirely based on emotion, that doesn’t mean it can’t factor in.

“Of course we have emotions,” Bowles said. “That’s not something you have to check at the door.”

That was during the part the public could hear. First Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer allowed media access only through a closed circuit television in a separate room of the courthouse, but at approximately 10:15 am, she ordered the stream to be placed on silent for over six hours of proceedings for private questioning of individual jurors. Administrative Office of the Courts Public Information Officer Barry Massey told SFR the judge muted the discussion because jurors did not want not to share their answers publicly and authorized the individual juror sessions to avoid other prospective jurors hearing each other make statements that could make the jury as a whole impartial.

Massey later issued a statement on the court’s practices saying the use of individual voir dire is permitted under procedural rules and is at the discretion of the trial court.

“Footnote 5 in the rule explains: ‘It will sometimes be necessary to ask follow-up questions outside the hearing of the other prospective jurors. This is to avoid giving factual information to other jurors that they would not otherwise know and which might affect their view of the case,’” Massey wrote, before also citing a Supreme Court ruling. “The Court wrote, ‘There are times when individual voir dire of prospective jurors is not only helpful, but also essential in providing a fair trial.’”

Marlowe Sommer also held a status conference Feb. 20 for Baldwin’s case, in which his attorneys argued for a “speedy trial” on the charge of involuntary manslaughter, preferably in June based on Marlowe Sommer’s court availability. Lawyer Alex Spiro said his schedule is “near impossible” the second half of this year and additionally argued that the state had shown, in receiving state funding for the case, that “due to the high publicity media data in this case, the attorneys could devote their full time to this matter.” Marlowe Sommer told attorneys she would look to find a compromise between June and July—the month the state asked be the earliest the trial begins.

Approximately 70 witnesses are slated to testify in the Guiterrez-Reed’s case per court documents. The trial—which is expected to last approximately two weeks—will resume tomorrow at 8:30 am MST for opening arguments.

Gutierrez-Reed faces up to 18 months in prison and a $5,000 fine if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors added the evidence tampering charge because another person from the movie set claims Gutierrez-Reed handed off what was believed to be a small bag of narcotics after the shooting and before investigators questioned her.

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