‘Rust’ Armorer Moves to Dismiss Charges For “Improper Political Motives” and Destruction of Evidence
The former armorer for Rust is looking to seize upon dysfunction from New Mexico prosecutors to dismiss involuntary manslaughter charges faulting her for the fatal shooting of the movie’s cinematographer when the revolver Alec Baldwin was holding discharged.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed argues in a motion filed on Thursday that prosecutors tainted the investigation, didn’t have the authority to bring charges and that her due process rights were violated. She stresses what was described as “improper political motives” of Santa Fe District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies and former special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, who was forced to bow out of the case.
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The latest setback on the case came in April when involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin were dismissed after Jason Lewis and Kari Morrissey were appointed to lead the prosecution. They pointed to “new facts were revealed that demand further investigation and forensic analysis in the case,” and said that charges could be refiled.
Gutierrez-Reed says charges against her should’ve been dropped as well since Carmack-Altwies wasn’t authorized to conduct an investigation or prosecution. She points to a court order holding that the district attorney, after appointing Reeb as the special prosecutor, lacked the authority to continue working on the case.
“Thus, since Reeb assumed the role of Special Prosecutor no later than June 9, 2022, every action taken by Carmack-Altwies was unauthorized as a matter of New Mexico law,” writes Gutierrez-Reed’s lawyer Jason Bowles in the filing.
Reeb stepped down from the prosecution after Baldwin’s lawyers moved to disqualify her. They argued that her position as a special prosecutor violated the New Mexico constitution since she also serves as a state legislator. Prosecutors in future cases could, they warned, seek to gain favor with legislators by offering them positions on high-profile cases that could boost their careers.
On top of accusations that the prosecutors used the case “an opportunity to advance their personal interests,” Gutierrez-Reed argues that the investigation was conducted in an improper manner. She says Reeb and Carmack-Altwies “directed a sloppy investigation,” pointing to their failure to investigate the origin of the live rounds found on set.
“In the immediate aftermath of the accident, law enforcement left the prop cart—an actual cart on which weapons and ammunition were stored—unattended,” Bowles writes.
Other alleged lapses in the investigation include the sheriff’s office deciding not to seek DNA testing of the live rounds found on set and prop master Sarah Zachry admitting to investigators that she disposed of the rounds in actor Jensen Ackles’ gun to hide evidence since she loaded his weapon, the filing says. Those rounds were not recovered.
Gutierrez-Reed also takes issue with the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s destruction of the sear, part of the trigger mechanism that holds the hammer on a gun, on the revolver Baldwin was holding. Prosecutors authorized testing on the firearm despite being told that it might result in it being permanently damaged.
“Mr. Baldwin’s charges have now been dismissed, on grounds that the firearm was ‘modified,’ and that the FBI’s destruction of the sear renders an ultimate determination now impossible or near impossible,” Bowles writes. “The new special prosecutor must have determined these facts were exculpatory to Baldwin, as she dismissed his charges. If so, they were also exculpatory as to Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.”
If the charges aren’t dismissed, Gutierrez-Reed says the court should consider suppression of certain evidence and that favorable inferences should be drawn regarding the inability to test rounds or the revolves.
Despite high-profile blunders by the Santa Fe District Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles lawyer Miguel Custodio says that charges are unlikely to be dropped since the court can consider her responsibilities as armorer, including her duty to ensure there were only dummy rounds on set and that weapons were under her control at all times.
“It’s a good bet that prosecutors are trying to use their case against Gutierrez-Reed to gather additional evidence that would give them grounds to refile charges against Baldwin,” he adds.
On Wednesday, prosecutors moved to transfer certain evidence, including a .45 revolver and several rounds of ammunition, to a ballistics expert for additional testing. They indicated that the hammer of the gun used in the fatal shooting may have been intentionally modified.
“The modification appears to be related to the notches on the internal portion of the hammer for full cock, half cock and quarter cock positions,” reads the filing. “It appears that these notches may have been partially removed or ground down so that they are less prominent. This possible modification is speculative without additional forensic testing.”
A six day preliminary hearing on whether charges should proceed is set to start on Aug. 9.
Lewis and Morrissey didn’t respond to a request for comment.
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