'Rust' assistant director gives emotional testimony in armorer's trial

David Halls previously pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon.

February 29, 2024, 6:03 PM

David Halls, the first assistant director for "Rust," gave emotional testimony Thursday about the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins during the involuntary manslaughter trial of armorer Hannah Gutierrez.

Actor Alec Baldwin was practicing a cross-draw in a church on the set of the Western movie in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in 2021 when the gun fired a live round, striking Hutchins and director Joel Souza, who suffered a non-life-threatening injury.

Halls, the film's safety coordinator, had conducted the safety check on the Colt .45 revolver before it was handed to Baldwin.

The actor was discussing where to point the gun with Hutchins before the shooting occurred, Halls told the court, tearing up.

"Then the gun went off," Halls said.

"It wasn't computing," he said. "My thought was that a blank round had been loaded."

David Halls testifies during the trial of "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Feb. 29, 2024.

Halls said he was one of the first people to reach Hutchins, who was on the ground, and asked her if she was all right.

"She said, 'I can't feel my legs,'" Halls said, crying.

Halls was charged with negligent use of a deadly weapon and sentenced in March 2023 to six months of unsupervised probation as part of a plea deal.

Asked by prosecutors on Thursday why he accepted that plea deal, he responded, "I was negligent in checking the gun properly."

Halls said he agreed to testify because it's important to him that "the truth be known."

"That Halyna's husband and son, her family, know the truth of what happened," he said. "It's important that the cast and the crew, producers of 'Rust' know what happened. And it's important that the industry, the motion picture and television industry, knows what happened so that this never happens again."

David Halls testifies during the trial of "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez in Santa Fe, New Mexico, Feb. 29, 2024.

Halls told the court Gutierrez loaded the gun with dummy rounds and showed him the cylinder. He said he did not recall her fully rotating the cylinder and only saw three to four of the six rounds during the safety check.

He testified that Gutierrez then handed the gun to Baldwin before walking away. That conflicts with prior statements from Gutierrez and Baldwin, who have both said Halls handed the actor the gun.

When asked about those discrepancies by defense attorney Jason Bowles on Thursday, Halls said he is aware of those statements but stood by his account.

Asked by Bowles why he didn't say something when he didn't see all the rounds in the cylinder, Halls responded, "This is what I'm admitting to, I did an improper check of that firearm."

Hannah Gutierrez appears in court in Santa Fe, N.M., during her trial on the deadly shooting on the "Rust" set, Feb. 29, 2024.

Gutierrez, 26, was charged with involuntary manslaughter last year in Hutchins' death following a lengthy investigation. She was subsequently charged with tampering with evidence. Prosecutors allege she handed off a small bag of cocaine after her interview with law enforcement following the shooting.

She has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Bowles said during opening statements last week that the production and state have made Gutierrez a "scapegoat" in the tragic shooting.

The defense has argued there is no proof that cocaine was in the bag and that she was charged with the offense "in an effort to cause unfair prejudice" to the defendant during the trial.

During his testimony on Thursday, Halls said he believed that "Rust" was a relatively safe set and did not have any concerns about Gutierrez as an armorer.

Earlier Thursday, Bryan Carpenter, an expert on firearms safety on films, testified for the state on best practices for armorers.

Carpenter pointed out what he called a lack of "muzzle discipline" while jurors were shown footage from the set of "Rust," including rough rehearsals and takes. In the footage, a stunt performer was shown repeatedly pointing a firearm at the crew and Baldwin could be seen using a revolver as a pointer.

In those instances, Gutierrez should have intervened, he said. The footage shown by prosecutors doesn't show her stepping in to address those issues.

Prosecutors show footage of Hannah Gutierrez on the set of "Rust" handling a firearm during her trial, Feb. 29, 2024, in Santa Fe, N.M.

In another video, Gutierrez could be seen holding a shotgun with the muzzle pointing toward her face, which Carpenter pointed out as being concerning.

"Never let the muzzle of the weapon cover anything you're not willing to harm," Carpenter said. "It's a fundamental safety rule. You treat all weapons as they're always loaded -- also fundamental safety rule."

Carpenter also pointed out that in the footage shown, the armorer did not collect firearms from the crew when they were not filming.

"It opens the door to an unsafe act that might occur," he said. "At the end of the day, control is how you manage safety."

During an interview with the Santa Fe County Sheriff's Office hours afterward, Gutierrez said she was outside the church due to COVID-19 restrictions. Halls testified Thursday that he was unaware at the time that she was not inside the church and did not tell her to leave.

Carpenter testified that he believes Gutierrez should have been present whenever the crew was handling a live firearm -- including during the rehearsal in the church.

"If you're not in control of viewing this weapon and knowing where it is and who's handling it and what they're doing with it, then you've lost control completely," he said. "You need to be observing these things, these weapons at all times."

Prosecutors have claimed that the armorer unwittingly brought multiple live bullets onto the set.

Carpenter testified that as an armorer, he would always do an inventory of the ammunition on set. He said he once found live ammunition while conducting an inventory after replacing an armorer on a set.

Bowles has denied that Gutierrez was the source of the live bullets on the "Rust" set. He has also argued that the production created a "chaotic scene" by giving Gutierrez props duties that took away from her job as lead armorer.

While being questioned by the defense, Carpenter said he believed there should have been more than one armorer on the "Rust" set, given the degree of firearms present.

Baldwin, who starred in and was a producer of the film, has also been charged with involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins' death. He has pleaded not guilty.

His trial is scheduled to start in July.

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