July 24th, 2024

New Mexico judge rejects effort to compel new testimony from movie armorer in Alec Baldwin trial

By Morgan Lee, The Associated Press on June 21, 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 denied a request Friday to use immunity to compel testimony from a movie set armorer in the involuntary manslaughter trial of actor Alec Baldwin who fatally shot a cinematographer during rehearsal for the Western movie “Rust.”

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted in March of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the shooting of Halyna Hutchins on a movie-set ranch and she was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Her statements to investigators and workplace safety regulators will likely figure prominently in Baldwin’s trial.

But further testimony could be limited by the armorer’s reluctance to testify and by Friday’s ruling against immunity by Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer, who said other witnesses can fill in most of the gaps. At a pretrial interview in May, Gutierrez-Reed exercised her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer all questions.

“It’s pretty clear that she does not intend to cooperate,” Marlowe Sommer said. “I haven’t heard of anything that she might testify to that someone else could not testify to.”

But the judge acknowledged that Gutierrez-Reed could offer new testimony about gun-safety training and whether Baldwin fully participated.

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey indicated that the state could still call on Gutierrez-Reed to testify without immunity. Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed both oppose efforts to compel her testimony.

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

Gutierrez-Reed is appealing her conviction and has also been charged separately with carrying a firearm into a Santa Fe bar weeks before the fatal shooting.

An attorney for Gutierrez-Reed said compelling her to testify, even with immunity, would “virtually eliminate” the possibility of a fair trial on the pending firearms charge and could disrupt her appeal.

Also during Friday’s hearing, Marlowe Sommer ruled against a request by defense attorneys to scuttle the trial because they said Baldwin had no reason to believe the gun could contain live ammunition and wasn’t “subjectively aware” of the risks.

The court will hear a second motion to dismiss the case based on the argument that the firearm 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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The spelling of the first name of special prosecutor Kari Morrissey has been corrected.

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