‘Rust’ armorer Hannah Gutierrez sentenced to 18 months in prison

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'Rust' armorer Hannah Gutierrez sentenced to 18 months in prison

A New Mexico judge on Monday ordered “Rust” movie weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez to serve 18 months in prison — the maximum sentence — for her role in the accidental shooting death of the western film’s cinematographer 2½ years ago in New Mexico.

In March, a Santa Fe, N.M., jury found Gutierrez, 26, guilty of involuntary manslaughter in Halyna Hutchins’ death during a rehearsal for a scene with actor Alec Baldwin, who was pointing his prop gun at her when it discharged. Prosecutors have alleged that Gutierrez brought the live ammunition to the film’s set and loaded it into Baldwin’s gun.

At an emotional sentencing hearing on Monday, in the same Santa Fe courtroom where Gutierrez’s trial unfolded, friends of Hutchins described the joy, generosity, determination and talent of the rising star in the film industry — and their sorrow over her death. The testimony, including from her family in Ukraine, underscored the profound loss felt by friends, family members and fellow filmmakers.

Gutierrez, wearing a prison jumpsuit, sobbed at times during Monday’s hearing. She asked the judge to sentence her to probation rather than jail time for the felony conviction. Gutierrez said her “heart aches” for Hutchins’ family and friends, but she disputed how she has been portrayed by special prosecutors and the press.

“I am saddened by the way the media sensationalized our traumatic tragedy, and portrayed me as a complete monster, which has actually been the total opposite of what’s been in my heart,” Gutierrez told the judge. “When I took on ‘Rust,’ I was young and I was naive but I took my job as seriously as I knew how to.”

But New Mexico First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer was not swayed, saying Gutierrez has shown little remorse — including on Monday or during her recent jail phone calls, which are routinely recorded, and were shared with special prosecutors.

“You were the armorer, the one that stood between a safe weapon and a weapon that could kill someone,” Marlowe Sommer told Gutierrez. “You alone turned a safe weapon into a lethal weapon. But for you, Ms. Hutchins would be alive, a husband would have his partner and a little boy would have his mother.”

Marlowe Sommer then told the bailiff to “please take her” to prison, ending the 90-minute hearing.

The October 2021 shooting shined a harsh light on film set safety, particularly on low-budget productions. The case drew worldwide attention, in large part, because of Baldwin’s stature in Hollywood and as a political lightning rod. Baldwin also has been charged with involuntary manslaughter and his trial is scheduled for July in Santa Fe. He has pleaded not guilty.

Gutierrez and her team have long asserted that she was unfairly bearing the brunt of the blame for the accident when others shared responsibility for on-set safety lapses. Hours before the fatal shooting, “Rust” camera crew members had walked off the job to protest safety concerns and a lack of housing near the film’s set.

Gutierrez had little experience; “Rust” was just her second job as head armorer. She also was tasked with the job of prop assistant.

On Monday, her stepfather, well-known Hollywood armorer Thell Reed, blamed the prop master and the weapons provider. He argued that his stepdaughter didn’t bring live ammunition to the film set south of Santa Fe, as prosecutors have alleged.

Several speakers pointed to the unsafe conditions on the “Rust” set.

“Film producers are responsible to ensure the cast and crew members hired are experienced enough to handle their jobs,” Hutchins’ agent, Craig Mizrahi, said during Monday’s hearing, which was televised by Court TV.

“When the producers hired someone with virtually no experience to not only be the armorer but also the assistant prop master, two very challenging positions in their own right, they made a crucial decision to put the safety of their cast and crew on the back burner,” Mizrahi said.

Famed victims’ rights attorney Gloria Allred was on hand to read statements from Hutchins’ family in Ukraine; she represents them in a civil case against Baldwin and other producers. Speaker after speaker, including the film’s director, Joel Souza, who was injured by the same bullet that killed Hutchins, discussed how the shooting had profoundly affected them, saying they remain filled with sorrow to this day.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins with husband Matthew Hutchins and their son.

(From Hutchins Family via Panish Shea Boyle Ravipudi LLP)

“The world lost not only a person that was a gifted artist but a truly kind and compassionate person, which often seems to be in short supply these days,” Souza testified via video link, acknowledging that he continues to grapple with the trauma from that day.

Souza had been standing directly behind Hutchins during the rehearsal and the lead bullet from Baldwin’s gun, which pierced Hutchins’ chest, lodged in his shoulder. Doctors at a Santa Fe hospital removed it later that day.

“Halyna’s parents lost their daughter, her sister lost a sibling and a confidant. Matt [Hutchins] lost his wife,” Souza told the judge. “Halyna’s son lost not only his mother but everything she had to offer him for the rest of her life. Every kind word, every loving gesture, every support.”

Prosecutors played a slide show of photographs from Hutchins’ youth in Ukraine, the job she loved behind the camera, and her activities including hiking and enjoying life with her family and friends.

“Halyna was a force. … She was one of my favorite people in the world,” Jen White, a friend, testified via video link. “I feel like she has gotten lost in the swirl of all of the finger pointing and blame in the aftermath of this completely preventable tragedy.”

Gutierrez has long acknowledged loading Baldwin’s gun with what she thought were inert “dummy” rounds. Baldwin has described how he was practicing an upcoming scene by pointing his prop pistol — a fully functioning Colt .45 revolver — at Hutchins, unaware that an actual bullet was one of six rounds packed inside the chamber.

Defense attorneys had asked Marlowe Sommer for leniency, saying Gutierrez was eligible for a conditional release program because the shooting was an accident and Gutierrez had no prior criminal record. But the judge said probation or sentencing her to a lesser punishment of a year in the Santa Fe County jail “would be giving you a pass that you do not deserve.”

In recent days, prosecutors had built a case that Gutierrez had shown little remorse for the death of Hutchins, including after she was placed in the county jail after her conviction last month.

“Ms. Gutierrez continues to deny responsibility and blame others” for Hutchins’ death, special prosecutor Kari T. Morrissey wrote in a court filing late last week. On Monday, Morrissey said she wasn’t sure of the appropriate punishment for Gutierrez until last week, when she began culling through Gutierrez’s jail phone calls — conversations with her mother, boyfriend and a paralegal.

“It was my sincere hope during this process that there would be some moment when Ms. Gutierrez took responsibility [and] expressed some level of remorse that was genuine,” Morrissey said. “And that moment has never come.”

The judge also pointed to the jail conversations to back up her decision that Gutierrez should serve time in a state women’s prison, saying Gutierrez continued to blame others in those recordings.

“Did she have enough time to load the weapon safely? Plenty. Did she load the weapon? Yes,” Marlowe Sommer said. “Did she check what she was loading? No. Why? Well, in her own words, most recently, in her jailhouse calls, she ‘didn’t need to be shaking the dummies all the time.’”

Marlowe Sommer said Gutierrez, in the jail calls, seemed to express more concern about how the criminal case “was messing up her modeling career” rather than others’ devastating losses.

In one conversation, the judge said, Gutierrez was quoted as saying, “People have accidents and people die. It’s an unfortunate part of life but it doesn’t mean [she] should be in jail.”

A seated woman talks with two men facing her

New Mexico First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer, center, talks with prosecutors Jason Lewis, left, and defense attorney Jason Bowles during Hannah Gutierrez’s trial in February in Santa Fe, N.M.

(Eddie Moore / Albuquerque Journal)

Gutierrez’s attorney Jason Bowles strongly disagreed with assertions that Gutierrez lacked remorse.

“Ms. Gutierrez Reed has felt real sadness and remorse over the tragic events,” Bowles wrote Sunday in advance of the sentencing hearing. “She has experienced this largely in private and has sought counseling to deal with her emotions and mental breakdowns.”

The judge noted Monday that it was Bowles, not Gutierrez, who said she was filled with remorse.

It was the second conviction that New Mexico prosecutors have secured in Hutchins’ death.

Last year, “Rust” assistant director David Halls pleaded no contest to one count of negligent use of a deadly weapon for his role in the tragedy. Halls had handed the gun to Baldwin that day, declaring it safe. He received a suspended six-month sentence of unsupervised probation. He testified against Gutierrez at her trial and has been on the witness list for Baldwin’s case.

An older man and a young woman stand outdoors with an arsenal of guns, each holding a gun

Armorer Thell Reed and daughter Hannah Gutierrez, who was the armorer on “Rust,” pose together on a film set.

(From Thell Reed)

Bowles has provided his services pro bono since taking the case in 2021.

Last week, Thell Reed attempted to set up a GoFundMe account to raise money to cover his stepdaughter’s legal bills during an appeal, but the site took down the family’s post due to its policy that prohibits fundraisers for legal defense of criminal charges for violent crimes.

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