‘Rust’ Prosecutor Faults ‘Astonishing’ Lack of Gun Safety as Defense Urges Acquittal

Attorneys gave their closing arguments in the “Rust” trial in Santa Fe, N.M., on Wednesday, with the prosecution urging jurors to find Hannah Gutierrez Reed guilty of involuntary manslaughter and to hold her accountable for an “astonishing” lack of gun safety on the film set.

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey argued that as the film’s armorer, Gutierrez Reed, was in charge of guns on set, and that it was her failure to tell the difference between dummies and live rounds that led to the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

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“This was a game of Russian roulette every time an actor had a gun with dummies,” Morrissey said.

Defense attorney Jason Bowles urged the jury to find her not guilty.

He cited flaws in the Sheriff’s investigation that made it impossible to know for certain where the live rounds came from. He also pointed to errors committed by the production, including actor Alec Baldwin and others, that contributed to Hutchins’ death, and argued that Gutierrez Reed is being scapegoated.

“The whole management team has just thrown safety aside in favor of money, in favor of speed, in favor of profit,” Bowles said. “At the end, they had somebody they could all blame… Justice for Halyna does not mean injustice for Hannah.”

Gutierrez Reed loaded Baldwin’s gun on the set at the Bonanza Creek Ranch on Oct. 21, 2021. Baldwin was preparing for a scene in an old church building when the gun fired — he claims he did not pull the trigger — killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

Baldwin is set to face his own involuntary manslaughter trial in July. Prosecutors have shown some evidence in this trial that points to Baldwin’s poor gun safety practices, including outtakes in which Baldwin is seen using a pistol as a pointer to direct the crew, and rushing the armorer to “reload” after a take.

A gun expert also testified that Baldwin’s weapon was working properly when it was fired, and that the trigger would have to be depressed.

In her closing argument, Morrissey stressed that both can be held responsible — and that Baldwin’s lapses do not excuse Gutierrez Reed’s.

“I’m not saying that his conduct was right. I am the person who indicted him,” she said. “Alec Baldwin’s conduct and his lack of gun safety inside that church on that day is something that he’s going to have to answer for… That’ll be with another jury on another day.”

Six live bullets were ultimately found on set, including the one that killed Hutchins. The question of how they got there has been a major issue in the trial. The prosecution presented sometimes blurry images, culled from thousands taken on set, that appear to show the live rounds were there at least 11 days before the shooting.

The prosecution has argued that the evidence shows Gutierrez Reed inadvertently brought them to set, mingled among dummy rounds. In a police interview, Gutierrez Reed said she brought some dummies that were loose in a bag in her car and were left over from her previous job as armorer on “The Old Way,” a Nicolas Cage film.

“I’m not telling you that Hannah Gutierrez intended to bring live rounds on set,” Morrissey said. “I’m telling you that she was negligent. She was thoughtless. She was careless… For all we know those dummy rounds were floating around the set of ‘The Old Way,’ and Nicolas Cage is lucky to have walked away with his life.”

The prosecutor stressed that it was Gutierrez Reed’s job to identify the live rounds and get rid of them. Dummy rounds typically have a BB inside that rattles when shaken, which proves that they are safe to use. But Morrissey argued that Gutierrez Reed failed to take that simple precaution.

“She wasn’t shaking any dummy rounds,” Morrissey said. “She wasn’t testing anything.”

The defense has pointed the finger at Seth Kenney, who supplied the “Rust” production with dummies, blanks, gun belts and firearms. Bowles showed the jury pictures of Kenney’s cluttered office, PDQ Arm and Prop, arguing that it was Kenney who must have mixed the live rounds in with the dummies.

Bowles argued that the lead detective failed to fully investigate Kenney, instead trading information with him and allowing him to steer the investigation. The detective spoke with him at least 40 times after the shooting, and waited more than a month before executing a search warrant at Kenney’s business. The detective also never talked to Joe Swanson, the manufacturer who made blanks and dummies used by the production.

To prove the charge of involuntary manslaughter, the state must show that the accident was “foreseeable” and that Gutierrez Reed acted with “willful disregard for the safety of others.”

Bowles argued that the state could not prove either of those elements. He argued that it was incomprehensible that a live round could end up on set.

“It cannot be willful if Hannah does not know there’s live rounds, and nobody did,” Bowles said. “Nobody in their wildest dreams thought there was a live round.”

Bowles compared Gutierrez Reed to a nurse who inadvertently administers a tainted drug to a patient, saying no one would accuse the nurse of manslaughter if it resulted in a death.

“She was entitled to rely on production buying dummies,” Bowles argued.

Morrissey acknowledged that other players also bear responsibility for the tragedy. She noted that Dave Halls, the first assistant director who was responsible for safety, has pleaded to a charge of negligent handling of a gun.

And she argued that Rust Movie Productions was negligent for hiring Gutierrez Reed, who was “not anywhere close to being qualified for this job.”

But she said it was “absolutely dishonest” to blame Kenney, given the evidence pointing to Gutierrez Reed.

The prosecutor also acknowledged that Gutierrez Reed did not know there were live rounds on set, but said that was no excuse.

“The reason she didn’t know was through her own negligence, her own recklessness,” she said. “She knew this was completely foreseeable. She was trained in firearms. She knows what we all know. Guns can kill you. You gotta be really careful.”

Morrissey also noted that in the aftermath of the shooting, Gutierrez Reed twice expressed concern for her career.

“Wow,” Morrissey said. “That gives you an idea that you are dealing with someone who is not particularly concerned about the health and safety of others.”

If the jurors acquit Gutierrez Reed of involuntary manslaughter, they can convict her of a “lesser included offense”: negligent use of a deadly weapon, a misdemeanor.

Gutierrez is also facing a felony charge of tampering with evidence for allegedly handing off a baggie of cocaine to another crew member on the night of the shooting. Bowles argued that the state could not prove that the baggie contained cocaine, noting that it was never tested and the state’s witness said it could also have been methamphetamine.

“This is a real stretch,” Bowles said.

The two felony charges each carry a maximum sentence of 18 months. If convicted of both, Gutierrez Reed faces as much as three years in prison.

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