Already facing involuntary manslaughter charges in the fatal “Rust” shooting, the movie’s gunman, Hannah Gutierrez Reed, appeared in court Wednesday to face an additional felony charge – tampering with evidence.
During a brief virtual court appearance, a judge told Gutierrez Reed that she now faces two felony counts each carrying an 18-month prison sentence. A preliminary hearing in the case is scheduled for next month.
The 25-year-old gun handler is the only remaining defendant in the full New Mexico prosecution of alleged wrongdoing on the film. During a scene rehearsal on October 21, 2021, actor Alec Baldwin pulled the hammer of the Colt .45 and fired the gun, claiming the life of 42-year-old cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, a rising star in the film industry.
Special prosecutors in New Mexico last month charged Gutierrez Reed with drinking and using marijuana during off-hours while the western was in production. They allege she was likely hanged on the fatal day when Baldwin’s gun went off during rehearsal in an old log cabin at Bonanza Creek Ranch, a sprawling film location south of Santa Fe. Her attorney contested the allegations.
In court filings, prosecutors alleged that after the tragedy, Gutierrez recognized that she would be scrutinized for handling weapons on the set and gave a “small bag of cocaine” to another person expected to be a witness in the case.
“The defendant transferred narcotics to another person with the intent to prevent her own arrest, prosecution or conviction,” Kari T. Morrissey wrote in a June 22 filing to describe the alleged tampering with evidence. The witness was not identified.
Testimony at Wednesday’s hearing came as Morrissey asked the judge to revoke Gutierrez’s pretrial release conditions, including her ability to carry a weapon because of threats she received amid the headline shooting saga.
New Mexico 1st Judicial District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer allowed Gutierrez Reed to keep a gun in her Arizona home.
During the hearing, Morrissey asked the judge to revoke that condition. Morrissey said she has information that Gutierrez “suffered from a serious substance abuse problem” and requested a random drug test on Gutierrez.
Gutierrez’s attorney, Jason Bowles, objected vigorously. Bowles said he did not know what Morrissey was saying, telling the judge that Morrissey had not provided any information to support such a claim.
Sommer dismissed Morrissey’s request, calling it an “ambush” for Bowles and Gutierrez.
Prosecutors and law enforcement botched the case.
Baldwin was charged in late January with involuntary manslaughter. In April, Morrissey and her law partner Jason J. Lewis dropped the criminal charges against Baldwin, citing new information in the case.
The other lead defendant, David Halls, accepted a plea deal. The film industry veteran pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of negligent use of a deadly weapon and received a suspended sentence of six months of unsupervised probation.
Morrissey and Lewis took over the case in April after the two original prosecutors resigned.
Gutierrez was impeached by special prosecutors.
“Her reckless failure resulted in another person’s senseless death,” Morrissey wrote in a filing. “What Defendant Gutierrez had to do was shake each bullet and make sure it vibrated before putting it in the gun – she failed and killed someone.”
Further complicating things, Bowles recently made public an email in which a former investigator who helped with the prosecution sharply criticized the way Santa Fe County Sheriff’s deputies handled the initial investigation.
Former investigator Robert Shilling sent an email late last month to Morrissey and 1st Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies, another attorney in her office. It seems that Schilling intended to include Lewis but sent him to Bowles instead.
“The behavior of the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s Office during and after their initial investigation has been unfathomable and unprofessional to the point where I have no words for it,” Shilling wrote in the email. “Neither I nor 200 more proficient investigators could clean up the mess that was delivered to your office in October 2022 (1 year since the first incident … unacceptable).”
Santa Fe County Sheriff Adan Mendoza declined to comment on Schilling’s critical comments.
The defendant spoke only once during Wednesday’s hearing. When Sommer asked if she preferred to be called Gutierrez or Gutierrez Reed, she said Gutierrez was fine.
Special prosecutors have said they were investigating the new information and could still bring charges against Baldwin.
Sources with knowledge of the matter, who were not authorized to speak publicly, told the Los Angeles Times that the prop gun used by Baldwin was allegedly altered before it was delivered to the “Rustic” set.
Two of the people in the know said it appeared the gun’s “hammer and sear” mechanisms had been altered, potentially interfering with the firing mechanism – making it easier to fire. Such a case could support Baldwin’s contention that he never pulled the trigger.
The bullet pierced Hutchins’ chest and grazed the shoulder of the film’s director, Joel Souza, who survived his wound.
An FBI ballistics expert also tested the weapon – a replica of an old action .45 Colt revolver made by arms manufacturer Pietta. But the FBI report, dated July 26, 2022, does not appear to mention significant changes to the gun.
The producers of “Rust” are determined to finish the story of Harland Rust, a historical outlaw from Kansas from the 1880s, played by Baldwin. They have said that the film will be a tribute to Hutchins.
They moved the production to Montana, where filming ended earlier this spring.
Hutchins’ husband, Matthew Hutchins, agreed last fall to drop a wrongful-death suit against Baldwin and the other “Rust” producers. As part of the proposed settlement, Hutchins became an executive producer on the film.