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David Halls, ‘Rust’ first assistant director, pleads to misdemeanor gun charge in set death

Halls will not serve jail time. Instead, he will serve six months of unsupervised probation.
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David Halls, the first assistant director on “Rust,” pleaded no contest on Friday to a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon, making him the first person to be held accountable for the shooting death of the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins.

Halls, who was the film’s safety coordinator, appeared remotely for a plea hearing before a Santa Fe judge. Asked how he wished to plea, he answered, “No contest, your honor.”

He will not serve jail time. Instead, he will serve six months of unsupervised probation.

The Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 23, 2021.
The set of "Rust" on the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 23, 2021.Jae C. Hong / AP file

He is also expected to testify at a preliminary hearing in May, as prosecutors pursue involuntary manslaughter charges against actor Alec Baldwin and the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed.

Halls was in the church building at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 21, 2021, when Hutchins was killed by a single shot from Baldwin’s Colt .45.

Gutierrez Reed loaded the firearm, which was supposed to contain only dummy rounds. Baldwin was holding it when it fired, though he has denied pulling the trigger.

Halls checked the weapon before it was handed to Baldwin, though the precise nature of his involvement remains in dispute. Baldwin has said that Halls handed him the weapon and declared it a “cold gun,” meaning it did not contain any blank rounds. Gutierrez Reed has also said that she handed it to Halls, and then left the building before Baldwin arrived.

Experts in the use of weapons on set have faulted Halls for handling the gun, saying that only the armorer and the actor should hold it.

Halls has denied under oath that handed the gun off to Baldwin, saying he remembers Gutierrez Reed giving it directly to the actor. He has also testified that he did not say “cold gun.”

At the plea hearing on Friday, prosecutor Kari Morrissey read a statement about Halls’ culpability in the shooting.

“He is the last line of defense. He needed to check and confirm that the rounds in the gun were actually dummy rounds,” she said. “Mr. Halls did not check every round that it was in the gun to confirm that it was a dummy round.”

Halls acknowledged in his initial sheriff’s interview that he should have checked all the rounds, but didn’t.

In her prepared statement, Morrissey also noted that there had been two negligent discharges of blank rounds prior to Hutchins’ death, and that the camera crew had walked off the set in part due to safety concerns.

“Obviously this was a very serious incident,” Morrissey said. “A young woman lost her life. There were obvious safety issues on this set, and Mr. Halls was, as the court knows, the safety coordinator on set.”

Halls’ defense attorney, Lisa Torraco, said Friday that Halls disputes the state’s contention that he was ultimately responsible for set safety.

“He can’t control how other people handle firearms,” Torraco said. However, she said that he had agreed to plead no contest to “make things easier for the family.”

“Everybody needs to start processing and moving on,” Torraco said. “Mr. Halls is in a lot of pain and a lot of trauma.”

Torraco asked for a deferred sentence, but the judge denied that request and instead imposed the six-month unsupervised probation term.

The two prosecutors who filed the charges in January, D.A. Mary Carmack-Altwies and special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, are now both off the case. On Wednesday, Carmack-Altwies appointed Morrissey and Jason Lewis, both private attorneys, to take over.

Carmack-Altwies told a judge Monday that she needed outside help to prosecute the case because her office is short-staffed. But the judge ruled that she would have to recuse herself if she was going to appoint special prosecutors.

Reeb stepped down after Baldwin challenged her appointment on grounds that she could not prosecute the case while serving in the state legislature.

Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed could face up to 18 months in prison if convicted.