Defense Begins Arguments in “Rust” Armorer Trial

Testimony from an OSHA compliance officer and a paid defense investigator finger production team and question investigative process

Defense attorneys Jason Bowles and Monnica Barreras began their rebuttal of the state’s case Tuesday with testimony from four witnesses aimed at shifting the blame from Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed onto other members and affiliates of the movie production, as well as reiterating the claim that she worked in a chaotic environment and investigators botched the case.

Lorenzo Montoya, a senior compliance officer for the New Mexico Occupational Health and Safety Bureau, was the first to take the stand in the First Judicial District Courtroom for the day. He told jurors about the investigation and subsequent report he completed, which recommended “a willful-serious citation” and financial penalties for Rust Productions, LLC. The state laid down a $136,793 fine—the maximum amount allowed by state law.

“The citation was issued because we determined that the management team was responsible for a series of failures that accumulated in an accident…specifically, we mean the chain of command above Hannah Gutierrez.” Montoya stated. “She is mentioned in the report frequently, but in terms of who we identify as members of management and who we consider responsible, she’s not. She’s just an employee.”

Prosecuting attorneys argue that Gutierrez-Reed, who faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering in the Oct. 21, 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, did not ensure prop guns and ammunition on the set of Rust were safe. Rather than using dummy ammunition as anticipated, she allegedly loaded a live round into the Colt-.45 revolver used by actor and producer Alec Baldwin in the incident. Baldwin maintains he did not pull the trigger before the weapon discharged, but also faces an involuntary manslaughter charge in a separate case scheduled for trial in July.

Montoya testified that his investigation included interviews with 17 Rust cast and crew members and a review of safety bulletins provided by production.

The report—completed the day after the shooting—said Rust Productions, LLC, showed “plain indifference to the hazards associated with firearms by routinely failing to practice their own safety protocols…and failing to ensure that the handling of deadly weapons was afforded the time and effort needed to keep the cast and crew safe.”

Montoya also said the report cited an instance where Gutierrez-Reed and Rust line producer Gabrielle Pickle—who testified for the state Feb. 28—exchanged emails in which the armorer noted safety concerns and called for more training days. In response, Pickle expressed concern about the amount Gutierrez-Reed was spending on those duties “and not supporting props as needed,” per her dual role as props assistant. The armorer fired back in the emails.

“Since we’ve started, I’ve had a lot of days where my job should only be to focus on the guns and everyone’s safety.” she wrote. “There are working guns on set every day and those are ultimately going to be a priority because when they are not, that’s when dangerous mistakes can happen.”

During the cross examination, special prosecutor Kari Morrissey noted the sheriff’s report was not available at that time and asked Montoya if he hired any firearms expert to review ammunition or hired an expert in film armory, to which he said no. He also testified that the bureau is not authorized under law to penalize employees—only employers.

Defense also called Scott Elliot, a former law enforcement officer for the Albuquerque Police Department. Elliot, who told jurors he had aided in between 150-200 homicide investigations, said he reviewed the discovery in the case and noted several concerns with the investigation of the Rust case by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office, including that first responders did not segregate witnesses at the Bonanza Creek Ranch set after the shooting.

“I felt like their response was probably not what it should be,” Elliot testified. “Yes, there were hundreds of people on that ranch, but if you narrow it down to who was in the church during the shooting, there were really about 20 people.”

When Bowles asked why it was concerning to not separate witnesses, Elliot said investigators want “a clean statement of what their knowledge is…People could be getting their story straight, and it causes witnesses to forget what they did or what they saw.”

After the shooting, Gutierrez-Reed was the only crew member placed into a police car, “which is common given she had some anxiety issues,” he said, “but it immediately became clear she was not free to leave.” He noted that Detective Alexandra Hancock—who testified twice during the state’s arguments—even escorted the armorer to the bathroom.

“Every other individual on that ranch was free to walk around, talk on their phone, do whatever they wanted to do,” Elliot testified. “Except Miss Gutierrez.”

Morrissey began cross examination by pointing out that Elliot was on the payroll for Gutierrez-Reed’s legal team.

She asked: “As a person who is employed as the defense investigator, it is your job to aid in her defense, correct?”

Elliot replied: “That’s true.”

When Morrissey asked him if he was aware Gutierrez-Reed asked to be placed in the patrol unit, Elliot responded, “She did ask.”

“Isn’t it true that Sgt. Christopher Zook told Detective Hancock, ‘[Gutierrez-Reed] doesn’t want to go to the bathroom alone,’” Morrissey asked.

He responded: “I didn’t think that included going into the bathroom with her…I believe she stated something along the lines of she didn’t want to talk to anyone from production. I think that was her intention of being escorted.”

During the redirect, Elliot testified he did not recall “any period of time” that Gutierrez-Reed was not in the presence of law enforcement.

Tension rose high during testimony that closed out the day. Frank Koucky, a managing director of a financial group and a firearms collector, told jurors his review of the evidence indicated Baldwin had violated firearm safety rules on the Rust set. When Bowles asked if he recalled a scene where the star continued firing a weapon after the filming of a scene wrapped, Koucky said he did.

“I feel that is unsafe,” he added.

But later when Bowles asked Koucky to show the court a gun he brought into the courtroom for demonstrations, Koucky removed a revolver from a case, pointed it toward the ceiling and then in the direction of the judge. An officer standing beside him took his hand and lowered the gun. Morrissey immediately objected.

“Everyone’s nervous because you have not demonstrated to us that they’re unloaded,” First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said immediately following the prosecutor’s call. “So before you start showing us the weapons, make sure they’re unloaded. Including the one you just touched.”

But when Morrissey asked if Koucky agreed he had violated firearm safety rules and in fact pointed the gun at the judge, he said, “I do not.” Bowles then objected.

The special prosecutor followed up: “Do you agree basic gun safety requires that you keep the muzzle of the gun pointed down?”

Koucky replied: “Not at all. In training, the gun may be pointed up, may be pointed back, [or] may be put in something.”

If convicted of both charges, Gutierrez-Reed faces up to three years in prison and a $5,000 fine. Marlowe Sommer anticipates defense will conclude its case and both parties will begin closing arguments tomorrow. The trial will resume tomorrow at 8:30 am.

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