1 Apr 2023

Rust set manager convicted in death of cinematographer

7:11 am on 1 April 2023
Director of Photography Halyna Hutchins was killed and director Joel Souza was injured on set while filming the movie "Rust" at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe, New Mexico on October 21, 2021. The film's star and producer Alec Baldwin discharged a prop firearm that hit Hutchins and Souza.

Locked gates outside the Bonanza Creek Range near Santa Fe where filming on Rust was taking place. Photo: 2021 Getty Images via AFP

By Andrew Hay

A Santa Fe judge on Friday accepted a plea deal, bringing the first conviction for the 2021 shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during filming of the Western movie Rust in New Mexico.

Dave Halls, first assistant director on Rust, pleaded no contest as part of an agreement with prosecutors to the misdemeanour charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon for his role in Hutchins' death.

Santa Fe District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer presided over a virtual hearing in Halls' case Friday.

She sentenced Halls, who was responsible for on-set safety, to a six-month suspended sentence with unsupervised probation, a $500 fine, 24 hours of community service and a firearms safety class.

Hutchins was killed when actor Alec Baldwin fired a live round from a revolver while rehearsing. As first assistant director, prosecutors said Halls was responsible for set safety on Rust.

Locals and members of the local film community mourn the loss of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, who died after being shot by Alec Baldwin on the set of his movie Rust at a vigil in Albuquerque, New Mexico, US.

Locals and members of the local film community mourn the loss of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Photo: AFP / 2021 Anadolu Agency

The conviction marked a step forward for state prosecutors plagued by legal setbacks since they filed charges in January.

"Halls did not check every round in the gun to confirm it was a dummy round and not a live round," state prosecutor Kari Morrissey said during the plea hearing.

Halls, an industry-veteran with over 80 credits including The Matrix Reloaded and The Crow: Salvation, was the only member of the Rust cast and crew to enter a plea bargain.

Prosecutors said he approached them and was co-operative.

It remains unclear whether he will testify on behalf of the prosecution in a May preliminary hearing where Marlowe Sommer will decide whether there is probable cause to try Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.

file photo taken on June 22, 2021 US actor Alec Baldwin

Halyna Hutchins was killed when actor Alec Baldwin fired a live round from a revolver while rehearsing. Photo: AFP

Baldwin pleaded not guilty to a criminal charge of involuntary manslaughter.

The actor said he relied on weapons experts - Gutierrez-Reed and Halls - to ensure the firearm was safe to use.

Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for firearm safety and training, will also plead not guilty, according to her lawyer.

'Cold gun'

The case is remarkable in that there is little or no precedent for a Hollywood actor to face criminal charges for an on-set shooting.

Investigators have been unable to discover who brought live rounds on set, an act strictly forbidden by the industry.

Never in anyone's wildest dreams never, never in anyone's imagination, did anyone think that there could possibly be a live round in the firearm, Halls' lawyer Lisa Torraco said.

She said Halls was suffering from "survivor's guilt" after he only checked the gun for blank rounds, which make an explosive sound and muzzle flash, and dummy rounds - the two types of rounds used on film sets.

The chain of events leading to Hutchins' death remains unclear, though Gutierrez-Reed has said she loaded the live round that killed Hutchins, believing it to be a dummy.

A 2021 police report said Halls announced the weapon was a "cold gun" - an industry term meaning it did not contain rounds with an explosive charge - before handing it to Baldwin.

Halls testified to New Mexico's worker safety bureau in December that it was Gutierrez-Reed who said "cold gun" and gave the revolver to Baldwin. The armorer told the bureau she never used that term and it was Halls who passed the weapon to Baldwin.

Under the charge of involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors must prove Gutierrez-Reed and Baldwin were not only negligent in their handling of the firearm but showed intentional disregard for Hutchins' safety.

- Reuters

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