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Jury finds armourer guilty in ‘Rust’ shooting case

A US jury has found Rust armourer Hannah Gutierrez guilty of involuntary manslaughter, ending a trial over Hollywood’s first on-set fatal shooting in nearly 30 years.

Ten days of testimony had focused on whether the relatively inexperienced armourer endangered fellow crew and cast members in her handling and supervision of firearms on the low-budget production set in New Mexico.

Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ordered that Gutierrez be taken into custody immediately. She faces up to 18 months in prison.

As deputies led her from the courtroom, she told her mother: “I’ll be okay”.

Jurors, who reached their decision in just three hours, acquitted Gutierrez on a second charge of evidence tampering.

On 21 October 2021, she mistakenly loaded a live round into a reproduction Colt .45 revolver that actor Alec Baldwin was using inside a film-set church outside Santa Fe.

Baldwin cocked the gun, pointed it toward the camera and it fired one live bullet that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

Baldwin denies having pulled the trigger. His manslaughter trial is set for 10 July.

“This case is about constant, never-ending safety failures that resulted in the death of a human being and nearly killed another,” said New Mexico state special prosecutor Kari Morrissey in her closing statement to the jury.

Gutierrez’s lawyer Jason Bowles said the movie’s production company tried to cut costs by employing her as both a part-time armourer and a props assistant in the gun-heavy Western.

During the trial, movie-set firearms safety expert Bryan Carpenter testified that more armourers were needed on the set.

New Mexico’s worker safety agency in 2022 fined the company, Rust Media Productions, the state’s maximum possible penalty for ignoring industry firearm safety guidelines.

As one of the least experienced, least powerful people on set, Bowles said his client was taking the blame for management.

“You’ve got a convenient fall person, a convenient scapegoat,” he added.

The late Halyna Hutchins

Throughout the trial witnesses ranging from director Souza to assistant director Dave Halls said it was beyond anyone’s imagination that live rounds could be mingled in with dummy rounds on the production.

State prosecutors and defence lawyers have fought over the source of live rounds, which are strictly forbidden on movie sets.

During the trial a Santa Fe detective cited “circumstantial evidence” that Gutierrez unknowingly brought the live rounds to Rust from a previous production in a white cardboard box.

Morrissey gave jurors photos taken up to ten days before the shooting showing a live round in the box and one in Baldwin’s belt.

“That’s a mountain of circumstantial evidence,” Morrissey said. “This was a game of Russian roulette every time an actor had a gun loaded with dummies.”

The fatal shooting occurred on the Rust set in October 2021

Bowles repeatedly blamed props supplier Seth Kenney, who has not been charged, as the source of the live rounds.

He said Kenney, a weapons consultant on films like Man Down and a props supplier to The Walking Dead, was not searched until a month after the shooting, allowing him to potentially dispose of evidence from his Albuquerque office.

Without knowing live rounds were on set, Bowles said Gutierrez did not show “willful disregard” for the safety of others, a requirement to convict her of involuntary manslaughter or a lesser charge of negligent use of a firearm, which carries up to six months in jail.

Half a dozen Rust crew members called by prosecutors testified that safety meetings were skipped, that Gutierrez sometimes failed to check whether weapons were loaded, and that Baldwin broke basic firearms safety rules.

Source: Reuters

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