A New Mexico judge has advanced the criminal case against Rust armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, marking a win for the prosecution, which has been marred by setbacks.
Judge Mary Sommer on Tuesday rejected a move to dismiss the case by Gutierrez-Reed, who argued that prosecutors tainted the investigation to the point a fair trial is no longer possible, didn’t have the authority to bring charges and that her due process rights were violated. The weapons supervisor who loaded the gun on the set of the movie before handing it to star/producer Alec Baldwin — who was holding it when it discharged during a rehearsal, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins — will face a weeklong hearing starting on Aug. 9 to decide if there’s probable cause for the case to go to trial.
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The preliminary examination will take place nearly two years after the fatal shooting. During that time, the prosecution has suffered a string of high-profile slip-ups starting with the downgrading of charges against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed and culminating with Andrea Reeb, the former special prosecutor, bowing out of the case due to a conflict of interest with her elected position in the New Mexico legislature. In April, charges against Baldwin were dropped after Kari Morrissey and Jason Lewis were appointed to replace Reeb.
Gutierrez-Reed faces charges of involuntary manslaughter and tampering with evidence. The latter charge, filed in June, involves accusations that she transferred “narcotics to another person with the intent to prevent the apprehension, prosecution or conviction of herself,” according to a court filing. The prosecution’s case revolves around the argument that Gutierrez-Reed acted recklessly when she loaded the gun before handing it to Baldwin, who can still be charged.
During Tuesday’s hearing, Sommer found Gutierrez-Reed can still get a fair trial and that the prosecution’s actions don’t rise to an “exceptional” circumstance warranting dismissal. “As an officer of the court, Morrissey said she’s conducting an independent investigation, and there’s no reason not to believe her as she’s finding more and more information,” the judge said.
Jason Bowles, a lawyer for Gutierrez-Reed, stressed that potential jurors will be biased against his client because the prosecution under Reeb spread “rumors” to the media that the armorer was firing live rounds on set with castmembers. He also pointed to allegations that Gutierrez-Reed was drinking on set and was likely hungover the day of the shooting.
“To date, there’s been no witness to substantiate that,” Bowles said. “The idea of saying someone was hungover and trying to prove that in court — I don’t know you could prove that.”
Sommer responded that Gutierrez-Reed “must be able to show definite and not speculative prejudice” and that “the assertion of tainting a jury pool is ahead of game” since the preliminary examination won’t involve jurors.
After being appointed to the case, Reeb gave a series of interviews elaborating on potential charges in the case before they were formally filed. In March, she was forced to step down after Baldwin’s lawyers pointed out a potential conflict of interest due to her elected position in the New Mexico House of Representatives. The move came less than a month after Mary Carmack-Altwies, the district attorney who serves Santa Fe County, filed an amended complaint downgrading involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin and Gutierrrez-Reed because they involved a recently amended firearm enhancement statute that didn’t exist at the time of the shooting. Carmack-Altwies removed herself from the prosecution alongside Reeb.
Additionally, Bowles raised the question of whether assistant director Dave Halls’ plea deal should be allowed to stand since he reached the agreement with Reeb. Morrissey welcomed the judge striking the deal, though she said that Bowles can’t raise the argument because he only represents Gutierrez-Reed and not Halls.
“If Mr. Halls wants to withdraw his plea, he can file,” Morrissey said. “I had nothing to do with any of those negotiations.” The special prosecutor explained that she asked if she could terminate the agreement when she was appointed to the case but was told she couldn’t because it had already been signed.
Halls signed a plea agreement to settle the charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon. The terms include a suspended sentence and six months of probation. He is expected to testify against Gutierrez-Reed as a witness for the prosecution.
A decision on whether charges will be refiled against Baldwin is expected to be delivered soon. Morrissey, Lewis and Bowles didn’t respond to requests for comment.
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