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Opening statements heard in Rust armourer’s trial

A New Mexico prosecutor has held the chief weapons handler for the Western film Rust, Hannah Gutierrez, responsible for the 2021 fatal shooting of the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins, while Gutierrez’s lawyer said she was being scapegoated for a tragedy.

Gutierrez, 27, listened calmly to the prosecution’s opening statements in her involuntary manslaughter trial in Santa Fe. She is accused of bringing live rounds on set – an act strictly forbidden for nearly a century.

She has pleaded not guilty and her lawyers told the jury of five women and seven men that she was being blamed for a chaotic, low-budget production where she was allegedly overworked, her requests for additional firearms training were allegedly ignored and actor Alec Baldwin allegedly broke basic gun safety rules by pointing the revolver at a person and pulling the trigger.

Halyna Hutchins was fatally shot after Baldwin was rehearsing on the Santa Fe film set with a reproduction Colt 45 Peacemaker revolver that Gutierrez loaded with a live round.

The fatal shooting took place on a film set in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in October 2021

Director Joel Souza, who was injured in the incident, survived.

Charges were dropped against Baldwin last April only to be reinstated on 19 January. His lawyers are seeking a June trial.

Baldwin, who was also one of the Rust producers, has denied responsibility and said the gun fired without him pulling the trigger, adding weapons safety was not his job.

Both FBI and independent tests of the revolver found it would not fire without a trigger pull.

The late Halyna Hutchins

“Just because there was a tragedy, it doesn’t mean that a crime was committed,” Jason Bowles, Gutierrez’s lawyer, said in his opening statement.

“We believe it was the negligent acts and failures of the defendant Miss Gutierrez that contributed to Miss Hutchins’s death and the live rounds being brought onto the set,” said special prosecutor Jason Lewis, appointed nearly a year ago after two predecessors resigned following a series of legal missteps.

Gutierrez has pleaded not guilty to the manslaughter charge as well as one of evidence tampering for allegedly handing off a bag of cocaine to a crew member on 21 October 2021 after the shooting to stop police finding it. Each felony charge carries up to 18 months in prison.

The prosecution has alleged Gutierrez’s drug use on evenings after filming meant she may have been hungover at work and unable to spot the difference between live and dummy rounds.

Lewis showed photos of live rounds found on set as evidence and said they should have been easy to detect, as they had shiny nickel primers, or end caps, while the dummies had dull brass primers and looked aged. He said dummies had holes in the side or ball bearings inside that rattle when shaken.

Alec Baldwin, who was also one of the Rust producers, has denied responsibility, saying weapons safety was not his job

Bowles countered that many dummy rounds on set had nickel primers while some had no ball bearings and were indistinguishable from live rounds.

He alleged props supplier Seth Kenney introduced the live rounds to the set and alleged props master Sarah Zachary, who worked for Kenney, disposed of evidence by throwing rounds away after the shooting.

Neither Kenney nor Zachary have been charged, and prosecutors have said there is no evidence Kenney supplied live rounds. Both are listed as potential witnesses by the prosecution and defence.

The death of Hutchins was the first on-set fatal shooting since the actor Brandon Lee, the 28-year-old son of the late martial artist and actor Bruce Lee, died in 1993 while filming a movie when his colleague shot him with a bullet unknowingly lodged in the barrel of a revolver.

Source: Reuters

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