‘Rust’ Trial: What Does Armorer’s Guilty Verdict Mean for Alec Baldwin?

Rexa Vella

‘Rust’ Trial: What Does Armorer’s Guilty Verdict Mean for Alec Baldwin?

When the “Rust” trial began two weeks ago, Mary Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney in Santa Fe, N.M., sent a campaign message to supporters.

In it, she made it clear that the case is not just about Hannah Gutierrez Reed, the young armorer who was convicted Wednesday in the 2021 gun accident that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

Without naming him, the D.A. conveyed that her office is really focused on a bigger fish: Alec Baldwin, the producer and actor who pulled the trigger.

“Here’s what is critical to me: in the First Judicial District, no one is above the law. No one,” she wrote. “No one avoids culpability due to fame, wealth, or connections in my jurisdiction.”

After a series of stumbles in the case, Carmack-Altwies got a much-needed win when the jury returned a guilty verdict on involuntary manslaughter. (The jurors acquitted Gutierrez Reed of a charge of tampering with evidence.) The D.A. had initially planned to prosecute the case herself, but stepped aside last year amid controversy, handing the job to two private attorneys, Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis.

Carmack-Altwies is up for re-election, and is facing a challenge from her predecessor, Marco Serna, in the June 4 Democratic primary. Serna has criticized the decision to outsource the case and to hire a PR professional, who arranged for national TV interviews to coincide with the announcement of the charges last year.

In an interview on Thursday, Serna acknowledged that the special prosecutor had ably handled the Gutierrez Reed trial.

“Ms. Morrissey is a good attorney,” he said. “Clearly, she got a guilty verdict.”

But he added that he still has concerns, noting that the “Rust” prosecutors have been paid by a special appropriation from the state government.

“Taxpayers have paid $600,000 at this point,” he said. “You have a full staff of attorneys. I disagree with spending that much on special prosecutors. I would trust my own office.”

Morrissey and Lewis will also handle Baldwin’s trial, which is set to begin July 9. Attorneys who followed the first trial had mixed opinions on whether the outcome was a good or bad sign for Baldwin.

“He might have had an uncomfortable night last night,” said John Day, a criminal defense lawyer in Santa Fe and a former prosecutor. “This special prosecution team has shown that they can win.”

At the same time, Baldwin’s lawyers can point to the conviction as proof that Gutierrez Reed — not her managers, not the producers — was singularly to blame for bringing a live bullet to set and loading it into his gun.

“It can go either way,” said Kate Mangels, a criminal defense attorney at Kinsella Holley Iser Kump Steinsapir LLP. “On the one hand, it shows that a jury is willing to find criminal liability for what arguably is workplace negligence or poor management. On the other hand, it could be that she, as the armorer, is the only one ultimately responsible.”

Baldwin’s lawyers got a preview of the key testimony in the case and a sense of how the prosecutors may approach him. Baldwin’s local lawyer, Heather LeBlanc, sat in the audience throughout the trial, a couple rows behind the defense table.

At times, it appeared that the prosecutors went out of their way to put on evidence that cut more against Baldwin than against Gutierrez Reed.

The prosecutors spent considerable court time rebutting Baldwin’s claim that he did not pull the trigger, demonstrating that his gun must have been in working order when it fired — even though Gutierrez Reed’s defense did not dispute that.

And, in the biggest revelation of trial, the prosecutors played outtakes in which Baldwin could be seen rushing the crew to “reload,” using his pistol as a pointer, firing blanks at the camera while in close proximity to it, and firing a blank — punctuated by an expletive — after “cut” had been yelled.

The footage made the point that Baldwin not only contributed to safety problems on “Rust,” but also appeared to be the man in charge.

Some crew members who testified against Gutierrez Reed also faulted Baldwin for failing to adhere to safety rules. Ross Addiego, the dolly grip, said that he didn’t recall anyone standing up to him on the set, and agreed that Baldwin was “the big boss.”

Asked why Baldwin needed to be holding a real gun when the cameras weren’t even rolling yet, Addiego said: “Mr. Baldwin always wanted to use his hero props.”

In her closing argument, Morrissey took a few swipes at Baldwin that suggested she would portray him to a Santa Fe jury as a Hollywood big shot. At one point, she alluded to a claim that Baldwin was acting like a “prima donna” and bossing everyone around on set.

“This is Hollywood for heaven’s sakes,” the prosecutor said. “I would imagine that’s relatively common.”

She even appeared to be baiting Baldwin, calling him “an A-list actor — if in fact that’s what you want to call him.” She repeatedly noted that Baldwin will be facing his own jury, and that his culpability is not being overlooked.

“Did Mr. Baldwin also contribute (to the death) when he pointed the gun at people and pulled the hammer back and — regardless of what you said to George Stephanopoulos — pulled the trigger?” she asked. “Yes… We’ll deal with that another time.”

Baldwin’s team declined to comment.

His lawyers are expected to file pre-trial motions that they hope will narrow down the case, and exclude the theory that he is criminally responsible as a producer of the film.

In a statement on Wednesday, the D.A. thanked the special prosecutors for their work on the case, but again made it clear that their work is not over.

“District Attorney Carmack-Altwies supports the special prosecutors as they continue to fight for justice in this matter.”

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