‘Rust’ movie armorer’s alleged drug use to be included at trial

A New Mexico judge ruled Wednesday that alleged drug use by “Rust” movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed during off-hours could be introduced as evidence during her upcoming trial on involuntary manslaughter charges in the death of the film’s cinematographer.

Special prosecutors plan to tell jurors that Gutierrez-Reed, 26, used cocaine, marijuana and alcohol when she was not working and that she was probably hungover on Oct. 21, 2021, when she loaded a live bullet into actor into Alec Baldwin’s revolver. That day, during an rehearsal in an old wooden church, Baldwin allegedly fired the shot that killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and wounded the film’s director Joel Souza.

In a key hearing one week before Gutierrez-Reed’s trial on involuntary manslaughter charges is scheduled to begin in Santa Fe, N.M., attorneys wrangled over the relevance of certain evidence, including Gutierrez-Reed’s text messages. In the texts, she alluded to drug use during her off-hours while the movie was in production outside Santa Fe — including the night before the fatal shooting.

Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys
objected to plans by Special Prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey to introduce text messages about drug use during the trial and a photo that allegedly depicts live ammunition in Gutierrez-Reed’s hotel room when she was smoking marijuana.

Prosecutors also plan to call a witness to try to corroborate the alleged drug use: an acquaintance who says Gutierrez-Reed gave her a small bag of a white substance for safekeeping a few hours after Gutierrez-Reed was questioned by sheriff’s deputies following the shooting.

Santa Fe County sheriff’s deputies, in their investigation, didn’t recover evidence of drugs. Film crew members were not tested for drug or alcohol on site, or when they arrived at the sheriff’s station near Santa Fe later that afternoon for questioning, attorneys have said.

Instead, the prosecutors have tried to piece together a picture of alleged drug use through Gutierrez-Reed’s text messages, which were voluntarily provided to the deputies more than two years ago to assist in the investigation.

Gutierrez-Reed’s attorney, Todd Bullion, argued Wednesday the state had no evidence to show that Gutierrez-Reed was impaired on the set. He said disclosures about drug use could be prejudicial to the jury and was an overreach by prosecutors.

“They want the jury to assume that at some point prior to going to work on Oct. 21, 2021, that Ms. Gutierrez-Reed ingested cocaine,” Bullion told the judge. “They have no evidence whether that actually happened … They have no evidence as to how much cocaine would have been consumed or how it would have affected Ms. Gutierrez-Reed or her mental perception or acuity.”

First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled that a few of the text messages, including one with photo of the live ammunition in the hotel room, could be introduced to the jury.

However, the judge did express some doubt that the state had enough evidence to connect alleged drug use to any impairment on set.

Wednesday’s hearing was conducted to sort out issues with witnesses and evidence before the Arizona armorer’s upcoming trial in Santa Fe, which begins with jury selection Feb. 21.

Defense attorneys also tried to introduce a new witness — an East Coast armorer who was prepared to testify that Gutierrez-Reed didn’t have adequate training required for union members who work as weapons experts in movies.

But the judge ruled the proposed addition of the new witness came to close to the trial.

Gutierrez-Reed has pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charges as well as a separate felony charge of alleged evidence tampering. That charge was related to allegedly passing the bag with the white substance to the acquaintance.

If convicted of the involuntary manslaughter charges, she faces an 18-month prison sentence.

Last month, a New Mexico grand jury charged Baldwin with involuntary manslaughter for his role in Hutchins’ tragic death. If convicted of the charge, a fourth-degree felony, Baldwin also could serve up to 18 months in prison, according to New Mexico law.

Baldwin has pleaded not guilty. “We look forward to our day in court,” Baldwin’s attorneys, Luke Nikas and Alex Spiro, said last month in a statement. A trial date for the actor has not been set.

For their part, Gutierrez-Reed’s attorneys plan to argue that Hutchins’ death was the result of a series of missteps, brought on due to extreme pressure from production managers to finish the movie — involving heavy weaponry — within 21 days and under the initial $7 million budget. Filmmakers finished filming the movie last spring in Montana.

Gutierrez-Reed had asked for additional days to provide Baldwin with weapons training, but that request was rejected by the production manager. Gutierrez-Reed had said that Baldwin was distracted with his phone, talking to his family back in New York, during his one and only gun training day.

Days before the tragedy, a production manager also scolded GutierrezReed for spending too much time dealing with weapons and not enough on her secondary role as assistant prop master.

Morrissey fought to exclude from the trial the findings by New Mexico’s occupational safety division, which concluded that producers were also to blame for Hutchins’ death by allowing a work set that was rife with safety violations.

The judge said Wednesday that the OSHA investigation findings could be mentioned during the trial.

Before Rust, GutierrezReed worked on about seven films, including during her years as a university student in Arizona. “Rust” was just her second film as head armorer. The first was “The Old Way,” which was shot in Montana and starred Nicolas Cage.

She is the daughter of legendary Hollywood sharpshooter, Thell Reed.