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Experts, eyewitnesses recount lapses in gun safety

The trial of Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed continues in Santa Fe, N.M., with prosecutors spotlighting weapons mishandling on the set of the Western film prior to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Gutierrez-Reed, 27, who faces up to 18 months in prison if convicted, is on trial for involuntary manslaughter after a gun the film’s star and producer, Alec Baldwin, was rehearsing with went off and killed Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021. The gun contained a live round, which shouldn’t have been on the set. Baldwin is also charged with involuntary manslaughter and this trial is seen as a precursor to his, which is set to start on July 9.

The latest

First assistant director David Halls, the safety coordinator on set, testified on Thursday that he did not hand the gun to Baldwin, as had previously been stated. He said Gutierrez-Reed passed it off after loading it with dummies and the one live round. Halls admitted he did not do a comprehensive safety check. He looked at the gun, seeing “three or four” but not all six rounds; Gutierrez-Reed did not spin the barrel.

David Halls, former first assistant director on David Halls, former first assistant director on

David Halls, former first assistant director on Rust, testifies on Feb. 29. (Gabriela Campos/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP, Pool)

Halls, who last year pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of negligent handling of a weapon and served six months of unsupervised probation, said he was not forced to testify under his plea agreement. He agreed because it’s “important to me that the truth be known.”

Halls, who retired from filmmaking after Hutchins’s death, said he was the first to the cinematographer’s side after “the gun went off” in Baldwin’s hand. He choked up recalling her saying, “I can’t feel my legs.” Hutchins, 42, was declared dead after being airlifted to a local hospital.

He testified that after the gun went off, he found Gutierrez-Reed — who had a second job on the film as a prop assistant and wasn’t present when the shooting occurred — and demanded she open the chamber of the gun. He said she pulled out five dummies and the spent casing of the live round.

Halls said he believed the set was safe, despite two previous accidental gun discharges. He felt Gutierrez-Reed was knowledgeable about firearms and diligent at her job. He did not think Baldwin rushed the crew.

Alec BaldwinAlec Baldwin

Actor/producer Alec Baldwin also faces a charge of involuntary manslaughter. His trial is expected to take place this summer.

Earlier, film armorer Bryan Carpenter, who’s worked on more than 100 productions, was an expert witness for the prosecution and pointed out red flags — including numerous instances of improper gun handling — in footage from the Rust set.

While Gutierrez-Reed was present, a stuntman had the muzzle of a gun toward the faces and backs of actors on the set without correction. Gutierrez-Reed was seen holding a shotgun upright by the barrel. Baldwin pointed a gun at the camera crew while explaining what he was going to do in a scene.

There was footage of Baldwin rushing the crew and barking at Gutierrez-Reed to reload a gun with blanks. She was pulling blanks out of a fanny pack, instead of storing them in a secure box. After, there appeared to be a missed safety check before a gun was handed to Baldwin. It was also pointed out that Baldwin — who prosecutors say skipped firearm safety sessions — was shooting blanks too close to the crew, noting that even blanks can expel material and cause injury. Carpenter said that extra armorers should have been present for scenes with so many working weapons.

Bryan CarpenterBryan Carpenter

Bryan Carpenter, a firearms safety expert who has worked as a film armorer, testifies on Feb. 29 as a witness for the prosecution. (Gabriela Campos/Pool/AFP via Getty Images)

Carpenter told prosecutor Kari Morrissey that an armorer should always be present when a “live gun” is used in a scene because, regardless of any modifications to the weapon, it’s real and capable of firing. He explained that on movie sets, most of the weapons are considered real guns by the standards of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Also used on set are prop guns, which are inert weapons that cannot fire, and replica guns that look like guns, but are not.

In cross-examination, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney Jason Bowles noted that because it was an independent film, there weren’t resources for extra armorers and the protocols Carpenter referred to. Bowles got Carpenter to agree that Gutierrez-Reed should have been called into the church set — where the shooting took place — when Baldwin went “off script” during rehearsal using the real gun.

Bowles also suggested Gutierrez-Reed, who was just starting out in the business, might be intimidated about confronting an “A-list actor” about his unsafe gun handling. Carpenter made clear that if someone did not feel capable of managing the use of the firearms on set, they “should never step into the position of doing it. You have to be prepared to go home.”

Highlights from the trial

Footage of Gutierrez-Reed reveals her talking to investigators about how the dummy rounds had been stored in her car prior to filming. Asked if she checked the dummies before loading them, she responded, “most of the time.”

The defense got the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s lead investigator, Det. Alexandra Hancock, to acknowledge there was no direct evidence that Gutierrez-Reed brought the live rounds to the set.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed seen on body camera footage the day of the shooting.Hannah Gutierrez-Reed seen on body camera footage the day of the shooting.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed seen on body camera footage the day of the shooting. (Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office)

In his testimony, film dolly grip Ross Addiego — who was in the church at the time of the shooting — faulted Gutierrez-Reed for leaving guns and ammunition unsecured. He said she was nothing like the “uptight,” “anal retentive” armorers he worked with during his 30-year career, saying she wasn’t “serious or professional” and “safety seemed to be secondary.” He described the set as a “state of chaos” and “rushed.” On the day of the shooting, the production was running two hours behind schedule.

Addiego also testified that he witnessed two accidental discharges of blank rounds on the set prior to the shooting. He went to Halls to express his frustration and said Halls “ignored me and walked away.” Halls was the person who handed the gun to Baldwin in Gutierrez-Reed’s absence and admitted he didn’t check it properly.

Lucien Haag, a gun expert who analyzed Baldwin’s Colt .45 and the ammunition for the prosecution, testified that — contrary to Baldwin’s claim that the gun went off without him pulling the trigger — the firearm was working properly before it was sent to the FBI for analysis. As for how the gun was broken, during FBI testing, an examiner hit it with a mallet to see if it would accidentally fire with enough force. It was then that three components of the gun broke.

Haag also testified that the live rounds on set — there were six in total — appeared to be “hand loaded” — or made by an individual by hand, rather than by a commercial manufacturer.

Key grip John Ziello testified that on two occasions prior to the shooting, he saw the ammunition cart — with guns out — left unattended on set.

Prosecutor Kari Morrissey, left, and defense attorney Jason Bowles, right, confer with Judge Mary Marlowe SommerProsecutor Kari Morrissey, left, and defense attorney Jason Bowles, right, confer with Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer

Prosecutor Kari Morrissey, left, and defense attorney Jason Bowles, right, confer with Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal via AP, Pool)

Body camera footage from the day of the shooting showed Gutierrez-Reed being told it was suspected that a live round was in the gun, before saying, “Holy f***.” She also called it “the worst day of my life.”

Gutierrez-Reed became visibly distressed when graphic photos from Hutchins’s autopsy were shown in court.

Some of Gutierrez-Reed’s texts were introduced into evidence, including one in which she referenced smoking marijuana the night before the shooting. Prosecutors said in opening statements that her sloppiness and lack of professionalism led to Hutchins’s death. Gutierrez-Reed is also facing a second charge of tampering over allegedly handing off a small amount of cocaine to a member of the production the night of the shooting.

Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney said in his opening statement that she has been made a “scapegoat” for errors made by Baldwin, the production and others on set. He talked about Baldwin not having proper gun safety training and said he shouldn’t have pointed the gun at Hutchins.

The trial began Feb. 21 and is expected to last two weeks.

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