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The Guardian - US
The Guardian - US
Guardian staff and agency

Rust movie assistant director tells court that armorer was diligent in her work

a man sits teary eyed in court
David Halls, former first assistant director on Rust, testifies in court at the trial of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Thursday. Photograph: Gabriela Campos/AP

The first assistant director on Alec Baldwin’s blighted western movie Rust in 2021, Dave Halls, has given tearful testimony at the trial of the armorer on set that she was diligent in her work – and that he was ultimately to blame for the fatal shooting during rehearsals of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Halls admitted in court in New Mexico on Thursday that he believed it was his fault that Hutchins ended up being shot and killed as Baldwin pointed a gun on set during a practice take, as he did not do a final check on the gun.

Halls was the first Rust crew member to praise armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed during her two-week trial on charges of involuntary manslaughter, during which former colleagues have said she was less professional than other weapons handlers they had worked with. Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty.

Jurors at the trial heard Halls, an industry veteran with credits such as The Matrix Reloaded, testify that the armorer on 21 October 2021 “abandoned” her usual habit of checking firearms, handing him a revolver into which it turned out she had mistakenly loaded a live round.

Halls said he failed to have Gutierrez-Reed show him all the rounds in the reproduction Colt .45 Peacemaker gun to ensure they were dummies – as is standard practice in the industry – before the weapon was handed to Baldwin, who was also a producer on the production, inside a movie-set church in countryside outside Santa Fe.

“I let a safety check pass,” said Halls, at times wiping away tears. Halls entered a plea bargain last year for negligent use of a deadly weapon and was given a six-month suspended sentence.

At the time of Hutchins’s death there was an industry worker outcry about safety conditions on movie sets involving some working on Rust as well as in the industry more widely.

Halls testified that he may have been the first person to speak to Hutchins, an up-and-coming cinematographer, after Baldwin pointed the gun at her while setting up a scene and it fired the live round. Baldwin has said he did not pull the trigger, despite doubt being cast in court on this account.

“She said, ‘I can’t feel my legs,’” Halls said, a day after the medical examiner who carried out the autopsy on Hutchins told the court that the bullet went through her spinal cord.

Gutierrez-Reed said she shook the rounds she loaded into the gun to test they were dummies with ball bearings inside that rattle before handing the firearm to Halls. She has pleaded not guilty.

Halls and the props supplier Sarah Zachry testified on Thursday that they did not recall the armorer ever rattle-testing rounds on set to check they were dummies.

Halls defended Baldwin, who denies involuntary manslaughter and is due to stand trial in July, saying the actor did not endanger safety by rushing the movie production, as prosecutors allege.

The case continues.

Reuters contributed reporting

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