July 25th, 2024

New Mexico judge weighs whether to compel testimony from movie armorer in Alec Baldwin trial

By Morgan Lee, The Associated Press on June 20, 2024.

FILE - Alec Baldwin emcees the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award Gala at New York Hilton Midtown on Dec. 9, 2021, in New York. A New Mexico judge is scheduled to consider at a Friday, June 21, 2024, hearing, whether to compel a movie set armorer to testify at actor Baldwin's involuntary manslaughter trial for the fatal shooting of a cinematographer during rehearsal for the Western movie “Rust.” (Photo by Evan Agostini/Invision/AP, File)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – A New Mexico judge is scheduled to consider at a Friday hearing whether to compel a movie set armorer to testify at actor Alec Baldwin’s involuntary manslaughter trial for the fatal shooting nearly three years ago of a cinematographer during rehearsal for the Western movie “Rust.”

Prosecutors are seeking a court order for Hannah Gutierrez-Reed to testify with immunity for her against related prosecution. Gutierrez-Reed was convicted in March of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the shooting of Halyna Hutchins at a movie-set ranch.

Baldwin figured prominently at that previous trial, which highlighted gun-safety protocols and his authority as a co-producer and the lead actor on “Rust.”

“The jury should hear all of the information Ms. Gutierrez has regarding Mr. Baldwin, both exculpatory and inculpatory,” special prosecutors Mari Morrissey and Erlinda Johnson said in court filings. “Counsel for both sides should be permitted to fully cross-examine Ms. Gutierrez.”

Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed both oppose efforts to compel her testimony.

At a pretrial interview in May, Gutierrez-Reed exercised her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer questions. Her attorneys say compelling her to testify, even with immunity, would “virtually eliminate” the possibility of a fair appeal and possible retrial. She also is fighting a separate charge of carrying a firearm into a Santa Fe bar weeks before the fatal shooting.

Also during Friday’s hearing, Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer is expected to weigh two defense requests to scuttle the trial on arguments that Baldwin had no reason to believe the gun could contain live ammunition and that it was heavily damaged during FBI forensic testing before it could be examined for possible modifications that might exonerate the actor.

“The government took the most critical evidence in this case – the firearm – and destroyed it by repeatedly and pointlessly striking it with a mallet,” defense attorneys said in court filings. “Government agents knew that the firearm would not survive.”

During the fatal rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin was pointing the gun at Hutchins when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza, who survived. Baldwin says he pulled back the gun’s hammer but did not pull the trigger.

Prosecutors plan to present evidence at trial that they say shows the firearm “could not have fired absent a pull of the trigger” and was working properly before the shooting.

At Gutierrez-Reed’s trial, an FBI expert testified the gun was fully functional with safety features when it arrived at an FBI laboratory. The expert said he had to strike the fully cocked gun with a mallet and break it for the gun to fire without depressing the trigger.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Marlowe Sommer previously rejected another Baldwin motion for dismissal, ruling that the grand jury was able to make an independent judgement on the indictment.

Last year special prosecutors dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Baldwin, saying they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. But they pivoted after receiving a new analysis of the gun and successfully pursued a grand jury indictment.

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