April 25th, 2024

Assistant director says armorer handed gun to Alec Baldwin before fatal shooting of cinematographer

By Morgan Lee, The Associated Press on February 29, 2024.

A teary-eyed David Halls, former first assistant director on "Rust," takes a moment to collect himself after recounting the moments following the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during a 2021 rehearsal, while testifying during Hannah Gutierrez-Reed's involuntary manslaughter trial in state district court in Santa Fe, N.M., Thursday, Feb. 29, 2024. (Gabriela Campos/Santa Fe New Mexican via AP, Pool)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Courtroom testimony in the fatal shooting of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin provided new details Thursday that conflict with other, earlier accounts about a final safety check on a revolver and exactly who handed it to the actor during rehearsal for the Western movie “Rust.”

Assistant director David Halls, the safety coordinator on set, told jurors that weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who is on trial on charges of manslaughter and evidence tampering, twice handed the revolver to Baldwin. It was first emptied of bullets, Halls testified, and then loaded again with several dummy rounds and a live round.

Baldwin was pointing the weapon at Hutchins when it went off on the movie set ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe on Oct. 20, 2021, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza. Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer on “Rust,” was separately indicted by a grand jury last month; his trial is scheduled for July.

“I did not see Ms. Gutierrez take the gun from Mr. Baldwin,” Halls said during questioning by the prosecution, “but she appeared back on my left-hand side and she said that she had put dummy rounds into the revolver.”

The testimony of Halls, who pleaded no contest last year to negligent use of a firearm and completed six months of unsupervised parole, may weigh significantly as prosecutors reconstruct the chain of events and custody of ammunition that led to the shooting.

He described a rudimentary safety check in which Gutierrez-Reed opened a latch on the revolver and he could see three or four dummy rounds inside that he recognized.

“She took a few steps to Mr. Baldwin and gave … Baldwin the gun,” Halls testified.

Gutierrez-Reed hasn’t testified but told investigators in the aftermath of the shooting that she left the loaded gun in the hands of Halls and walked out of a makeshift church on the set beforehand. She has pleaded not guilty.

Baldwin, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter in his case, initially told investigators that Gutierrez-Reed handed him the gun but later said it was Halls. The actor has said he pulled back the hammer but not the trigger.

Halls acknowledged on the witnesses stand that he “was negligent in checking the gun properly” because he didn’t examine all the rounds inside.

His testimony included a visceral account of standing just 3 feet (about 1 meter) from Hutchins when the single gunshot rang out. As Hutchins was on the ground, he asked if she was alright.

“She said, “˜I can’t feel my legs,'” Halls said.

Halls said he left the church to ensure sure someone called 911. He added that he struggled to understand how a live round could been fired, returning to the church to retrieve the gun from a pew before taking it outside to have it unloaded by a crew member and inspect the ammunition.

“The idea that it was a live round of ammunition that went off … it wasn’t computing,” he said.

Defense attorneys say problems on the set were beyond Gutierrez-Reed’s control and have pointed to shortcomings in the collection of evidence and interviews. They also say the main ammunition supplier wasn’t properly investigated.

Prosecutors say Gutierrez-Reed is to blame for bringing live ammunition on set and she treated basic safety protocols for weapons as optional. They say six live rounds bear identical characteristics and don’t match ones seized from the movie’s supplier in Albuquerque.

In other court testimony Thursday, a movie props supervisor who helped manage weapons on set said she threw away dummy ammunition rounds from two guns in the immediate aftermath of the shooting while in a state of shock and panic.

Sarah Zachry said she emptied the ammunition into a garbage container from guns that were used by actors other than Baldwin. She called it a “reactive decision” and said she eventually told law enforcement.

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