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'Rust' armorer was 'sloppy' and left guns and ammo lying around movie set, prosecutors tell jurors

Production armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed faces involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering charges in the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
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Opening statements began Thursday in the trial of "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who is charged with involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence in the fatal on-set shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Hutchins, 42, was killed Oct. 21, 2021, during filming for “Rust” at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe County, New Mexico. Actor Alec Baldwin was rehearsing with a prop gun for a scene when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and wounding director Joel Souza.

The case centers on how a live round of ammunition found its way onto the film’s set and into the gun held by Baldwin. Although Baldwin maintains he did not pull the trigger, the gun fired a bullet.

Gutierrez-Reed, 26, was responsible for the weapons on the set of the Western film, which starred Baldwin. She faces up to three years in jail if convicted on both counts.

New Mexico special prosecutor Jason Lewis said in his opening statement that Hutchins' death was a result of Gutierrez-Reed's "sloppy" handling of the weapons on the set and that she failed to check the gun appropriately before bringing it to the film's set that day.

"We believe that it was the negligent acts and failures of the defendant ... that contributed to Ms. Hutchins' death," Lewis told the jurors.

Image: Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.Swen Studios / via Reuters

Lewis said they plan to call several witnesses during the two-week trial, who will "describe the defendant's conduct as unprofessional and sloppy. You will hear testimony that she routinely left guns and ammunition lying around the set unattended and her gun safe and ammo cart were constantly disorganized."

Prosecutors showed multiple photos to the jury of what they claim were live rounds of ammunition in both the gun holster worn by Baldwin and in the boxes of ammunition found on Gutierrez-Reed's ammo cart. Lewis claimed that Gutierrez-Reed brought the box of ammunition from her home to the set.

But Gutierrez-Reed's attorney Jason Bowles hit back at that theory, saying that Hutchins' death was a result of Baldwin's failure to comply with film set safety regulations.

"The first event that had to happen is the actor Alec Baldwin pointed a gun on that set and he either had his finger on the trigger and the hammer cocked or he pulled the trigger, as he was pointing that at Ms. Hutchins and Mr. Souza ... make no mistake, this is not a prop gun. This is a real gun ... You will hear that Hollywood actors are not allowed to point guns, real guns at other actors or crew ... You learn these rules and go into the classes you learn these rules if you’ve ever owned a gun, rule number one, never point a firearm at somebody unless you intend to shoot it."

NBC News has reached out to Baldwin's attorneys for comment.

Following the actor's indictment in January, SAG-AFTRA the union representing over 150,000 actors issued a statement slamming the prosecutor's decision to re-charge him.

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

“To the extent that the charges filed on January 19 are based on an accusation of negligent use of a firearm predicated on this or any actor having a duty to inspect a firearm as part of its use, that is an incorrect assessment of the actual duties of an actor on set. An actor’s job is not to be a firearms or weapons expert. Firearms are provided for use on set under the guidance of multiple expert professionals directly responsible for the safe and accurate operation of that firearm.”

Bowles continued his opening statement by saying that Gutierrez-Reed was hired to do two jobs, both armorer and prop assistant. He claimed that because of this she did not have appropriate time to properly oversee the weapons. Bowles also said he will prove that his client was not the one who brought the live rounds to the set.

Gutierrez-Reed faces up to three years in jail if convicted on both counts. The evidence tampering charge alleges she passed drugs to another person on the day of the shooting "with the intent to prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of herself,” according to a court filing.

When asked by NBC News if Gutierrez-Reed will take the stand in her defense Bowles wouldn't answer.

Baldwin, who was indicted last month on one count of involuntary manslaughter by a New Mexico grand jury, is set to stand trial this summer. Prosecutors had previously dropped a separate set of charges against the actor, citing new evidence.

His attorney, Luke Nikas, said in a statement at the time of the grand jury announcement that “we look forward to our day in court.”

Alec Baldwin practicing a scene with a revolver on the set of the western "Rust" before accidentally shooting and killing the film's cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins.
Alec Baldwin practicing a scene with a revolver on the set of the western "Rust" before accidentally shooting and killing the film's cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins. Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office via Alamy

Baldwin has said in multiple interviews that he did not pull the trigger.

“I feel that someone is responsible for what happened and I can’t say who that is, but I know it’s not me.” Baldwin told ABC News two months after the shooting.

In a report commissioned by prosecutors last year, a forensics expert found that the gun that killed Hutchins had not been modified and that Baldwin would have had to have pulled the trigger.

Among the evidence and witnesses expected to be presented during the trial are first responders and sheriff deputies who arrived to the set of the Western movie immediately after the shooting.

A source also said that video obtained exclusively by NBC News in November featuring Baldwin firing at least one prop gun on set could be played for the jury.

Prosecutors are also expected to introduce text messages they say show that Gutierrez-Reed was using drugs and alcohol after work, including the night before the shooting.