Armorer Trial Begins: Accountability Sought in Tragic ‘Rust’ Shooting

SANTA FE, N.M. – The trial for the armorer in the tragic shooting on the set of the Western film “Rust” is underway, as prosecutors in New Mexico seek accountability for the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Before actor Alec Baldwin’s separate case progresses, Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on the set, is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence. A jury of sixteen jurors, including four alternates, was selected for the trial, conducted with limited visibility to protect the privacy of the jurors.

Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to the charges and asserts that she is not directly responsible for Hutchins’ death. Baldwin also entered a not guilty plea to an involuntary manslaughter charge. The trial will present evidence that Gutierrez-Reed loaded a live round into the gun that fatally shot Hutchins, despite the explicit prohibition of live ammunition on the set. Prosecutors argue that the armorer missed multiple opportunities to ensure safety on the movie set, while the defense claims to have evidence that contradicts these allegations.

The outcome of Gutierrez-Reed’s trial has significant implications for Baldwin, who was holding the gun that resulted in Hutchins’ death and the injury of director Joel Souza. The selection of jurors for the trial involved a diverse pool of 70 residents from the Santa Fe area, including individuals with various professions such as welders, teachers, and a mother of six. Potential jurors were questioned about their exposure to media coverage and online discussions surrounding the case.

Gutierrez-Reed, the stepdaughter of renowned sharpshooter Thell Reed, faces a potential prison sentence of up to 18 months and a $5,000 fine if convicted of involuntary manslaughter. Additionally, she is charged with evidence tampering, accused of giving a small bag thought to contain narcotics to another crew member after the shooting. Gutierrez-Reed’s defense argues that this charge is an attempt to tarnish her character, as the bag was discarded without testing its contents.

More than 40 witnesses are listed to testify during the trial, which is expected to last until March 6. The presence of live rounds on the movie set is a key point of contention. Authorities discovered six rounds of ammunition in various locations, including a box, a gun belt, and a bandolier worn by Baldwin. Special prosecutors contend that Hutchins died as a result of negligent acts by Gutierrez-Reed, who allegedly failed to notice live rounds and take action before the shooting. However, Gutierrez-Reed’s defense team claims that live rounds were supplied by an Albuquerque-based provider of dummy rounds. They also reveal safety failures identified by state workplace safety inspectors that extend beyond the armorer.

Under state workplace safety regulations, Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for the storage, maintenance, handling of firearms and ammunition on the set, and training cast members in firearm usage. Differentiating live rounds from dummy rounds is typically done through visual signs or shaking the round to hear the rattle of an inserted BB. A workplace safety report highlighted various safety violations and testimony indicating inadequate actions taken by production managers following previous misfires on the set. Prosecutors sought to exclude these conclusions from the trial, as they could shift blame onto Rust Movie Productions instead of solely on Gutierrez-Reed.

Meanwhile, Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer on “Rust,” was indicted on an involuntary manslaughter charge. Baldwin claims that he pulled back the gun’s hammer, not the trigger, leading to the weapon firing. Legal experts suggest that the charge against Baldwin allows for an investigation beyond his handling of the gun, potentially implicating him as a producer. However, Baldwin’s defense attorney believes that this approach will not hold up in court.

The trial for Gutierrez-Reed is a critical step in determining responsibility for the tragic events that occurred on the set of “Rust,” shedding light on the actions and decisions made by the armorer. As the trial continues, the outcome will not only have consequences for Gutierrez-Reed but also for Baldwin, whose involvement in the incident remains a subject of scrutiny.