Movie armourer 'unwittingly' took live rounds onto Rust set, prosecutors say

According to special prosecutors, the trial of movie weapons supervisor Hannah Gutierrez-Reed for the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins may hinge on the enduring mystery of how live ammunition found its way onto the set of a film where it was expressly prohibited. Investigators recovered six live rounds of ammunition from various locations on the set of the western movie Rust, including the round that killed Hutchins and wounded director Joel Souza.

Substantial evidence, including photos of live rounds present on the set days before the fatality, as well as testimony that Gutierrez-Reed had looked for and purchased live .45-calibre ammunition months before the shooting, will be presented at the trial to demonstrate that the armourer unwittingly took live rounds on to the set when she first began work on the film, prosecutors say. Gutierrez-Reed is charged with involuntary manslaughter and has pleaded not guilty to the charge.

The evidence against her is described as flimsy by her lawyers, who also accuse prosecutors of compromising a crucial trial witness by handing over privileged communications about their case to the Albuquerque-based dummy ammunition supplier for Rust. The ammunition supplier, Seth Kenney, denies any connection to the live rounds that ended up on the set.

A civil lawsuit against Kenney by Gutierrez-Reed was dismissed in August and cannot be refiled. The proceedings against the armourer hold implications for Alec Baldwin, the lead actor and co-producer on Rust, who has pleaded not guilty to a charge of involuntary manslaughter and could face trial later this year.

David Halls, Rust assistant director and safety coordinator, pleaded no contest to unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months probation, while cooperating with investigations of the shooting. Live rounds are typically distinguished from dummy rounds by a small hole in the dummy's brass cartridge, indicating there is no explosive inside, by a missing or dimpled primer at the bottom of the cartridge, or by shaking the round to hear the clatter of a BB that is inserted inside.

Industry-wide guidance prohibits the use of live ammunition on movie sets, treating all firearms as if they are loaded. Crew members also say that the movie set location, Bonanza Creek Ranch, forbade the presence of live ammunition on its property. State workplace safety regulators determined that Gutierrez-Reed was responsible for handling firearms and ammunition on set, failing to load firearms with blanks that have a charge but no projectile, or inert dummy rounds.

The indictment against Baldwin provides two alternative standards for prosecution, one based on the negligent use of a firearm and another tied to negligence without due caution or 'circumspection,' also defined as 'total disregard or indifference for the safety of others.' Legal experts say the latter standard could broaden the investigation beyond Baldwin's handling of the gun.

A date has not been set for Baldwin's potential trial. The proceedings against the armourer include allegations of tampering with evidence, with prosecutors saying that Gutierrez-Reed handed a baggie of possible narcotics to another crew member in the aftermath of the shooting to evade prosecution and took a video of herself taking a gun into a Santa Fe bar weeks before the fatal shooting.

Gutierrez-Reed's defence lawyer describes the charges as trumped-up accusations meant to pressure Gutierrez-Reed into confessing about the source of live ammunition on the Rust set. Prosecutors say they have offered to resolve the case on the condition that she takes responsibility for bringing live ammunition onto the set.

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