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‘Rust’ armorer faced tearful testimony and claims of ‘unprofessional’ handling of guns in first week of trial

Several people took the stand throughout the first week of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s trial, which included emotional testimony from the film’s assistant director.
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Hannah Gutierrez-Reed during her involuntary manslaughter trial in Santa Fe, N.M., on Thursday.Gabriela Campos / Pool/AFP - Getty Images

The first week of Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s criminal trial was marked by a series of eyewitness accounts?from those who were on set when “Rust” cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot with a prop gun held by actor Alec Baldwin.

The case centers on how a live round of ammunition found its way onto the film’s set and into the gun that Baldwin was holding on Oct. 21, 2021. Dave Halls, the film’s first assistant director, who handed the gun to Baldwin that fired a live bullet that killed Hutchins and injured director Joel Souza, was among the witnesses and experts who took the stand this week at a courthouse in New Mexico. Baldwin has maintained he did not pull the gun’s trigger.

Gutierrez-Reed, the armorer on set at the time of the incident, has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering and?faces three years in prison. She has pleaded not guilty.

Image: Rust set aerial
An aerial view of the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., in 2021.Jae C. Hong / AP file

Here’s a look at the trial’s first week.

Emotional testimony

Halls took the stand on Thursday and told jurors, “My thought was that a blank round had been loaded.” He began to cry as he recounted being one of the first to approach Hutchins. “She said, ‘I can’t feel my legs.’”

Halls, who also served as the film’s safety coordinator, pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon last year and as part of a plea deal was sentenced to six months of unsupervised probation. Halls’ testimony marks the first time he spoke publicly about what happened on the set.

“It’s important to me that the truth be known, that Halyna’s husband, son, family know the truth of what happened,” he said when prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey asked him why he agreed to testify.

When Morrissey questioned Halls on Gutierrez-Reed’s on-set conduct with the weapons, he said that he never witnessed Gutierrez-Reed handle herself in an “improper” manner.

But Halls got emotional when he discussed the moments before the fatal shooting. Halls said he was the one who handed the gun to Baldwin during the rehearsal on set and declared the gun “cold” — meaning there were no rounds of live ammunition inside. Halls said during his testimony that he should have checked the gun more thoroughly and admitted that he “did an improper check of that firearm.”

Halls went on to say that he did not recall seeing Gutierrez-Reed spin the entire cylinder around to ensure all bullets were dummy rounds. While wiping away tears he said, “I let a safety check pass.”

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Alec Baldwin practicing a scene on the set of “Rust” in Santa Fe, N.M.Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office / EYEPRESS via Reuters

Mystery around live bullets

Sarah Zachry, the film’s prop master and Gutierrez-Reed’s boss, said from the witness stand Friday that she only brought one box of dummy rounds to the “Rust” set and didn’t know who brought the live rounds that authorities found on set following the incident.

In the moments after the shooting, Zachry admitted that she took the live rounds out of the gun and “threw them away in a state of shock and panic. It was a reactive decision.” She said she told investigators about this one month after the shooting.

Zachry also spoke about how she was not satisfied with Gutierrez-Reed during production and talked with colleagues about wanting to fire her at one point. Defense attorney Jason Bowles said in his opening statements that his client served as both armorer and a props assistant, which distracted her from being able to sufficiently oversee the weapons during filming.

Director Joel Souza recounts being shot

Joel Souza, the director on the set, said that after the shooting “nothing made sense.” Souza, who was shot by the same bullet that killed Hutchins, said he remembered looking up at Gutierrez-Reed and hearing her repeatedly say, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, Joel.”

Souza described the feeling of being shot as though someone had “taken a baseball bat to my shoulder.”

He said he did not realize he had been injured by a live round of ammunition, and when medical personnel informed him of that at the hospital, “It could not compute for me,” Souza said.

During cross-examination by Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney, Souza said he recalled Halls declaring the gun was “cold” on set.

‘Sloppy’ and ‘unprofessional’

During opening statements, special prosecutor Jason Lewis called Gutierrez-Reed’s behavior on the “Rust” set “sloppy” and “unprofessional.”

“We believe that it was the negligent acts and failures of the defendant ... that contributed to Ms. Hutchins’ death,” Lewis said.

There was testimony from those on set who said Gutierrez-Reed failed to create a safe film set. Ross Addiego, a dolly grip, described to the jury a day on the New Mexico set when there were two accidental discharges in the course of one hour. Addiego said accidental firearm discharges are “not common.”

At one point, Addiego said that Guiterrez-Reed was not “as serious or professional as I’m accustomed to.” He said that guns and ammunition that should be “under lock and keys” would be left unattended on a prop cart. He said he voiced his concerns about the set’s safety with Halls and that “Mr. Halls ignored me and walked away.”

John Ziello, who worked as a grip on set, told Morrissey that he came across an unmanned prop cart on set and that “it seemed wrong. Anyone could have done anything to those weapons.” Ziello said he never reported his concerns.

Gutierrez-Reed calls herself ‘a failure’ in bodycam video

During several days of the trial, various pieces of bodycam footage from the day of the deadly shooting were played for the jury. In one clip, Gutierrez-Reed was heard in the aftermath of the shooting while sitting in the back of a police car saying, “I just want to get the f--- out of here and never show my face in this industry again.”

She also said, “I’m a f---ing failure.”

Shortly after the incident, Gutierrez-Reed was taken in for questioning. In footage from the interrogation, she can be heard telling the sheriff investigator, “It’s my job to check the barrel” of the gun. She is also heard referencing Brandon Lee, an actor who was killed on the 1993 film set of “The Crow.” He died after a firearm malfunctioned while filming a scene on set.

As she continues to be questioned by the sheriff investigator, Gutierrez-Reed is heard in the footage saying that although she remembered shaking all of the rounds to make sure they were dummy rounds, “I wish I would have checked [the gun] more.”

In a second round of questioning from the day of the shooting, played for jurors, Gutierrez-Reed admits that she did not have much official training and that most of her job opportunities had come directly from her stepfather, Thell Reed, a famous Hollywood armorer. Gutierrez-Reed also told the sheriff investigator that “Rust” was only her second job in the film industry.

Lucien “Luke” Haag, a forensic science services expert, told jurors Tuesday that he examined the firearm that Baldwin was holding during the rehearsal. He testified that he had reviewed the FBI’s ballistics reports on the revolver and also tested the gun himself. Haag determined that the firearm was in “proper working order” and that it was “not modified” in any way. He told prosecutors that Baldwin would have had to have pulled the trigger for it to fire.

It’s unclear if Gutierrez-Reed will take the stand in her own defense during the trial. When asked by NBC News, her attorney would not confirm.

The trial will resume Monday.

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