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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Dani Anguiano in Los Angeles

First week of Rust armorer trial paints picture of chaotic set where safety was ‘secondary’

A young, white-presenting woman with long brown hair and bangs, wearing a gray blazer, is seen from the back sitting at a courtroom table and looking to her left as if listening to someone speaking.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed at district court in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on 28 February 2024. Photograph: Luis Sánchez Saturno/AP

Witnesses in the trial of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer in the troubled western Rust, this week described a chaotic set where safety was “secondary” before the shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for ensuring that all firearms on the set were safe, is on trial for charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering in connection with the 23 October 2021 shooting. She is the first to go on trial, and proceedings are expected to have major implications for Alec Baldwin, who will face trial in July.

Prosecutors have argued that Gutierrez-Reed, then 24, failed to follow essential safety procedures and that her work on set was “sloppy”. Attorneys for Gutierrez-Reed, who has pleaded not guilty, argue that she is being used as a scapegoat in the incident.

This week crew members, law enforcement and a firearms expert testified, shedding light on the weeks leading up to the shooting as well as its aftermath.

In a New Mexico courtroom on Monday, crew member Ross Addiego told the jury that the production had been working at “ludicrous speeds” and that “safety seemed to be secondary”. Several crew workers had walked off set in protest of working conditions in the hours before the shooting – and staff had reportedly complained about gun safety.

Addiego described Gutierrez-Reed as less professional than other armorers he had worked with and said that firearms were left unsecured.

He also witnessed the shooting and offered a detailed account of what occurred.

The shooting unfolded during a rehearsal for the western. Alec Baldwin, who in addition to acting in the drama served as a co-producer, was pointing a gun at Hutchins when the weapon fired, hitting her and wounding the film’s director, Joel Souza.

Hutchins, 42, died at a nearby hospital.

Baldwin has said that he pulled back the hammer of the gun before it fired, but that he did not pull the trigger.

The firearm was supposed to be loaded with blanks, and when it fired, it sent everyone into a panic, Addiego said.

“I think the first person I made eye contact with was Halyna, who was clearly injured by whatever that gunshot was, that noise we had just heard. And in fact, she was starting to go flush … holding her right side,” he said.

Addiego, who is suing Baldwin and the film production company, said that he was “hoping for justice”.

“Two people were injured on a film set. That has affected not only me, that has affected the film industry,” he said.

Souza testified on Friday, describing how he had gone behind Hutchins to get a look at the camera angle when there was an “incredibly loud bang”. It felt as if someone had “taken a baseball bat” to his shoulder, he said.

He told the jury that as he laid next to Hutchins, he was in disbelief that he had been shot. At one point, a distraught Gutierrez-Reed came over and said: “I’m sorry. I’m sorry, Joel.”

Gutierrez-Reed appeared pained during his testimony.

At the hospital, Souza said, he insisted to medical personnel that there could not have been a real bullet.

“I just kept saying: ‘You don’t understand,’” he said. “No, no, no – this was a movie set. That’s not possible … And they kept saying: ‘No, no, no. It is … They eventually grew tired of my protesting about it because they showed me the X-ray of my back and there was a very large bullet in it.”

David Halls, the assistant director and safety coordinator on set, told jurors that Gutierrez-Reed had been diligent in her work and that he took responsibility for the shooting, as he did not do a final check of the weapon. He entered a plea bargain last year for negligent use of a deadly weapon and was given a six-month suspended sentence for his role.

“I let a safety check pass,” said Halls, at times wiping away tears.

Addiego’s testimony that Gutierrez-Reed was less than professional helped bolster prosecutors’ argument that her work had been careless and that she treated safety protocols as optional. Live rounds of ammunition that Gutierrez-Reed allegedly brought from home were found on set, the prosecution said.

In interviews with police, video of which was shown in court this week, Gutierrez-Reed expressed surprise over the presence of live rounds of ammunition on the film set and insisted she had checked the weapon before it reached Baldwin.

“I wish I would have checked it more,” Gutierrez-Reed said in an October 2021 interview.

“I totally feel like this is just a really fucked-up accident,” she said.

Prosecutors highlighted inconsistencies in her statements, including her claim to have inspected the rounds. Gutierrez-Reed said she had shaken them for a telltale rattle. That shake can identify inert dummy rounds where gunpowder has been replaced by BBs, but investigators say at least one round contained no BBs and was marked as a dummy by a hole in the side.

This week’s witnesses also included two firearms experts whose testimony cast doubt on Baldwin’s account of the shooting and his claim that the gun malfunctioned. An FBI expert testified on Monday that the revolver used by Baldwin had been fully functional with safety features when it arrived at an FBI laboratory. He had to strike the fully cocked gun with a mallet and break it for it to fire without pulling the trigger, he said.

Lucien Haag, an independent firearms expert, backed the FBI’s claims, testifying that he had seen no evidence that the gun had been broken or modified before it was tested by the FBI.

The Associated Press contributed reporting

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