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Los Angeles Times
Los Angeles Times
Meg James

'Rust' prosecutors turn focus on movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed in shooting

Already facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the deadly "Rust" shooting, the film's armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, appeared in court Wednesday to face an additional felony charge — tampering with evidence.

During a brief virtual court appearance, a judge told Gutierrez Reed that she now faces two criminal counts that each carry an 18-month prison sentence. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for next month.

The 25-year-old weapons handler is the sole remaining defendant in New Mexico's fraught prosecution of alleged wrongdoing on the movie set. During a scene rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021, actor Alec Baldwin pulled the hammer of the Colt .45 and the gun fired, claiming the life of 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, a rising star in the movie industry.

New Mexico special prosecutors last month accused Gutierrez Reed of drinking and smoking marijuana during off-hours while the western was in production. They have alleged that she was probably hung over on the fatal day when Baldwin's gun fired during the rehearsal in an old wooden church at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a sprawling movie location south of Santa Fe. Her attorney has challenged the allegations.

In court filings, prosecutors have alleged that, after the tragedy, Gutierrez Reed recognized she would be scrutinized for her handling of weapons on the set so she handed a "small bag of cocaine" to another person who is expected to be a witness in the case.

"The defendant did transfer narcotics to another person with the intent to prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of herself," Kari T. Morrissey wrote in a June 22 filing to describe the alleged evidence tampering. The witness has not been identified.

Wednesday's hearing turned testy when Morrissey asked the judge to revoke Gutierrez Reed's pretrial release conditions, which include her ability to keep a weapon because of threats she has received amid the headline-grabbing shooting saga.

New Mexico 1st Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer has allowed Gutierrez Reed to keep a gun at her Arizona home.

During the hearing, Morrissey asked the judge to revoke that condition. Morrissey said she has information that Gutierrez Reed has "suffered from a significant substance abuse problem" and asked for random drug testing of Gutierrez Reed.

Gutierrez Reed's attorney, Jason Bowles, strenuously objected. Bowles said he did not know what Morrissey was talking about, telling the judge that Morrissey hasn't provided any information that supported such a claim.

Sommer shut down Morrissey's request, calling it an "ambush" on Bowles and Gutierrez Reed.

The case has been vexed by various missteps by prosecutors and law enforcement.

Baldwin was charged in late January with involuntary manslaughter. In April, Morrissey and her law partner Jason J. Lewis dropped the criminal charges against Baldwin, citing new information in the case.

The other initial defendant, David Halls, accepted a plea arrangement. The film industry veteran pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of negligent use of a deadly weapon and received a suspended six-month sentence of unsupervised probation.

Morrissey and Lewis took over the case in April after the two original prosecutors were forced to step down.

The special prosecutors have zeroed in on Gutierrez Reed.

"Her reckless failure resulted in the senseless death of another human being," Morrissey wrote in a filing. "All Defendant Gutierrez needed to do was shake every bullet and make sure it rattled before putting it in the gun — she failed and killed someone."

Further complicating matters, Bowles recently made public an email, in which a former investigator helping the prosecution was sharply critical of the Santa Fe County Sheriff's deputies handling of the initial investigation.

Former investigator Robert Shilling sent an email late last month to Morrissey and 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, another attorney in her office. Shilling apparently intended to include Lewis but sent it to Bowles instead.

"The conduct of the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office during and after their initial investigation is reprehensible and unprofessional to a degree I still have no words for," Shilling wrote in the email. "Not I or 200 more proficient investigators than I can/could clean up the mess delivered to your office in October 2022 (1 year since the initial incident ... inexcusable)."

Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza declined to comment on Shilling's critical comments.

The defendant spoke only once during Wednesday's hearing. When Sommer asked whether she preferred to be called Gutierrez or Gutierrez Reed, she said Gutierrez was fine.

The special prosecutors have said they were investigating the new information and could still bring charges against Baldwin.

Sources familiar with the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, told The Los Angeles Times that prosecutors learned the prop gun Baldwin was using allegedly had been modified before being delivered to the "Rust" set.

Two of the knowledgeable people said the gun's "hammer and sear" mechanisms appeared to have been altered, which may have affected the firing mechanism — making it easier to fire. Such a scenario could support Baldwin's contention that he never pulled the trigger.

The bullet pierced Hutchins' chest and lodged in the shoulder of the film's director, Joel Souza, who recovered from his wound.

An FBI ballistics expert also tested the weapon — a replica of a vintage .45 Colt single-action revolver made by weapons manufacturer Pietta. But the FBI report, dated July 26, 2022, does not appear to mention significant alterations to the gun.

"Rust" producers have been determined to finish the story of Harland Rust, a fictional 1880s Kansas outlaw, played by Baldwin. They have said the movie will be a tribute to Hutchins.

They moved the production to Montana, where the filming wrapped up earlier this spring.

Hutchins' husband, Matthew Hutchins, agreed last fall to abandon a wrongful death suit against Baldwin and the other "Rust" producers. As part of the proposed settlement, Hutchins became an executive producer on the film.

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