State Starts Arguments Against “Rust” Armorer

Opening statements lay out why prosecutors say Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was negligent and why her attorney says she wasn’t

Lawyers in the first day of the criminal trial against former Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed disagreed about how to tell the difference between live and dummy rounds as they presented opening arguments.

Prosecutor Jason Lewis told the jury Gutierrez-Reed deserves to be convicted for “her negligent acts and failures” on the movie set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch on Oct. 21, 2021. Gutierrez-Reed, identified only as Gutierrez in court documents, faces involuntary manslaughter charges in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a rehearsal, as well as a felony charge for alleged evidence tampering.

Following a protracted jury selection the day before, the state opened its case with a brief background on the slain cinematographer, calling her “a gifted and talented artist, but above all she was a loving wife and mother.” Prosecutors then gave an overview of Gutierrez-Reed’s dual roles on the set as armorer and a props assistant.

As an armorer, she trained actors including Alec Baldwin, who is also a producer on the film, regarding the use of the guns containing dummy ammunition for the production. Baldwin was holding a Colt .45 revolver that discharged a live round and killed Hutchins. He claims he did not pull the trigger, but also faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in her death.

Lewis focused on the differences between dummy, blank and live rounds, adding “there are ways, if you are careful, that you can distinguish” between them, which he said Gutierrez-Reed failed to do. Six rounds of live ammunition made it to the set even before the shooting occurred, he said, based on photo evidence from previous filming days presented to the jury. For example, he noted some dummy rounds lack the primer—an explosive element inside the center portion of a live round, which is silver in color.

“Unfortunately in this case, Miss Gutierrez did not always adhere to these safety procedures,” Lewis said before noting the state has witnesses set to testify that the former armorer rushed through the procedures such as delivering the firearm to the actor and checking the rounds to make sure none were live ammunition, “and sometimes she skipped this step altogether.”

The state closed its opening statements by reading from a transcript of what Gutierrez-Reed told investigators the day of the shooting: “I just don’t know. I wish I would’ve checked it more.”

“And so do we,” Lewis concluded.

First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer declined to dismiss Gutierrez-Reed’s case Feb. 14 in a last-minute motion from defense, and consented to allow prosecutors to introduce evidence of her alleged off-duty drug use as well. In a campaign message released early Thursday afternoon, First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies—who is seeking re-election and who handed off the case to special prosecutors Lewis and Kari Morrisey outside of her office—called Hutchins death “unfortunate and heartbreaking,” but said something critical stood out to her from the Rust cases.

“No one avoids culpability due to fame, wealth, or connections in my jurisdiction. Everyone is accountable for their actions, especially when those actions result in the harm or death of another person,” Carmack-Altwies said. “As the Rust trial begins, I want to assure New Mexicans that our office continues to pursue justice in all cases to ensure that all who commit crimes are held accountable to the community and individuals they harm.”

Prior to the trial’s commencement, The Hollywood Reporter examined whether the former armorer is “getting a fair shot.” The shooting, THR reported, showed “the dysfunction of a Santa Fe prosecutor’s office charged with figuring out who exactly is to blame,” among other things.

Gutierrez-Reed, now 26, remained stoic throughout the hearing, seated between her attorney Jason Bowles and Carmella Sisneros. Bowles told jurors that while what happened was a tragedy, it doesn’t mean “a crime was committed.” Rather, movie producers and the state “sought to make Hannah the scapegoat,” solely based on the fact that “she’s an easy target.”

Bowles disputed Lewis’s description of how to tell the difference between dummy rounds and live ammunition, calling the state’s argument about using the color of primers to indicate a live round “just not true” and additionally noting an ammunition box investigators recovered from the set contained 16 dummy rounds with silver primers. Furthermore, defense attorneys claimed other set officials—such as prop master Sarah Zachry—committed “absolute scene tampering.”

Zachry removed rounds from two of the actor’s guns and she threw them away following the shooting, and also moved items from a set prop cart to a prop truck, creating more confusion, Bowles added.

When interviewed by the sheriff about discarding rounds, Zachry reportedly said, “I was panicked, and that’s all I can tell you.” Investigators never recovered the ammo she admitted to discarding. She is not facing charges and appears on the prosecution’s witness list.

“We are here on a reasonable doubt standard. That means you can’t convict somebody in this country unless you prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt,” Bowles said. “What we’ve got here is theories based on evidence that’s already been tampered with.”

The defense attorney then turned his attention to the production practices. Bowles described the set on Bonanza Ranch—located roughly 18 miles from downtown Santa Fe—as “a chaotic scene created by production and forcing [Gutierrez-Reed] to do these two roles.” He noted the New Mexico Occupational Safety and Health Administration found faults on part of production including a rushed set, safety errors and more. Bowles added that Gutierrez-Reed emailed other crew and asked for more armorer training and cross draw training for Baldwin, but higher-ups said there wasn’t enough time.

“Miss Gutierrez did the very best job she could given the circumstances. She had insufficient time to do her armory duties because she was also forced to do props,” Bowles said. “She is not guilty.”

Three members of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Department testified about the investigation Thursday afternoon. The trial is expected to last approximately two weeks.

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 production claims she handed off what was believed to be a small bag of narcotics after the shooting and before investigators questioned her.

Watch the hearing here.

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