SANTA FE, N.M. - A New Mexico judge told attorneys to "stay the course" on charges including involuntary manslaughter against movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed in the shooting death of a cinematographer by Alec Baldwin, rejecting Tuesday a request from defense counsel to dismiss charges.
The ruling from Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer during online proceedings sets the stage for lengthy evidentiary hearings, starting next week, on manslaughter and evidence-tampering charges. Gutierrez-Reed is the sole remaining defendant in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021.
In April, prosecutors dropped charges against Baldwin, who was pointing a gun at Hutchins when it went off, killing her and injuring director Joel Souza. This left Gutierrez-Reed as the sole remaining defendant in the case. If convicted, she faces up to three years in prison.
An attorney for Gutierrez-Reed argued unsuccessfully Tuesday that the case had been compromised by changes in the prosecution team earlier this year, sloppiness with evidence and public statements by prosecutors that might interfere with the right to an impartial jury.
Signage indicating the location of the Bonanza Creek Ranch film set, near where a crew member was fatally shot during production of the western film "Rust", is seen on October 28, 2021 in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Photo by PATRICK T. FALLON/AFP via Gett
Sommer rejected the arguments and sided with prosecutors, who urged the court to move forward with a preliminary hearing that will decide whether evidence is sufficient to advance toward trial.
Prosecutors have said charges still could be refiled against Baldwin pending further investigation, including an ongoing independent examination by a firearms expert. The expert is examining the revolver fired in the fatal shooting, and other weapons and ammunition seized from the set.
Authorities have not yet determined how live ammunition found its way into the .45-caliber revolver, which was made by an Italian company that specializes in 19th century reproductions.
Baldwin has said the gun fired accidentally after he followed instructions to point it toward Hutchins, who was behind the camera. He said he pulled back the hammer — but not the trigger — and the gun fired.
In April prosecutors commissioned additional weapons testing to investigate whether the hammer of the gun may have been intentionally modified.
"We don’t have the firearms report yet, although they told me that it’s forthcoming. I hope to have it by the end of the week," special prosecutor Kari Morrissey said Tuesday. "The causation issues as they relate to Mr. Baldwin and the functionality of the firearm do not create causation problems for Ms. Gutierrez. That is our legal opinion."
An August FBI report on the agency’s analysis of the gun found that, as is common with firearms of that design, it could go off without pulling the trigger if force was applied to an uncocked hammer — such as by dropping the weapon.
The only way the testers could get it to fire was by striking the gun with a mallet while the hammer was down and resting on the cartridge, or by pulling the trigger while it was fully cocked. The gun eventually broke during the testing.
Separately, prosecutors withdrew a motion to shield the name of a witness from public disclosure as they pursue an evidence-tampering charge against Gutierrez-Reed.
Prosecutors say a witness is prepared to testify that Gutierrez-Reed handed off a small bag of narcotics to her after returning from an interview at a police station, despite concerns about being harassed or blacklisted in the entertainment industry.
"She has agreed not to pursue a protective order," Morrissey said of the witness.
Defense attorney Jason Bowles has called the evidence-tampering charge a vindictive attempt at "character assassination" by prosecutors.
In March of this year, "Rust" safety coordinator and assistant director David Halls pleaded no contest to a charge of unsafe handling of a firearm and received a suspended sentence of six months' probation.
He agreed to cooperate in the investigation of the fatal shooting and is listed as a possible witness in evidentiary hearings next week to decide whether the case can advance toward trial.
The filming of "Rust" resumed in April in Montana under an agreement with the cinematographer’s widower, Matthew Hutchins, that makes him an executive producer.