Night before 'Rust' shooting, armorer smoked 'to get high,' texts show

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By Andrew Hay

SANTA FE, N.M. (Reuters) - New Mexico prosecutors on Friday showed jurors texts in which "Rust" weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez said she smoked to "get high" the night before the movie's cinematographer was fatally shot on set in October 2021.

In court filings, prosecutors in the trial have alleged Gutierrez's use of marijuana, cocaine and alcohol on evenings after filming may have led to her impairment at work on Oct. 21, 2021 when she mistakenly loaded a live round into a gun actor Alec Baldwin was rehearsing with. The texts shown Friday, the second day of testimony in the trial, did not specify a drug.

Jason Hawks, a prosecution witness on cellphone data, who analyzed texts from Gutierrez's phone, testified and showed texts in which Gutierrez says at 7:48 pm on Oct. 20, 2021, "heading down to get high out back." Around half an hour later she texts "I'm still smoking."

Prosecutor Kari Morrissey told Reuters she did not intend to call an expert witness on drug use because no blood tests were carried out on Gutierrez after cinematographer Halyna Hutchins was shot dead.

Gutierrez's defense lawyers have argued that prosecutors' drug use allegations are speculative, without evidence and an attempt to infer character flaws and prejudice the jury against her.

Hutchins died when the Italian-made Pietta reproduction Colt .45 revolver Baldwin was rehearsing with fired the live round, hitting the rising star cinematographer in the chest.

Legal experts say that should prosecutors persuade the jury Gutierrez was impaired on set, where she was responsible for firearms safety, she could be convicted of a charge of involuntary manslaughter which carries up to 18 months.

Gutierrez is also charged with evidence tampering for allegedly handing a bag of cocaine to a fellow crew member after the shooting in order to prevent police from finding it.

Gutierrez has pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Prosecution and defense have both tried to show chaos on the low-budget movie where two accidental firearm discharges on one day led a camera crew to walk off set hours before Hutchins died.

Defense lawyers said Hutchins died because of Baldwin's reckless handling of the revolver while prosecutors blamed Gutierrez's accidental introduction of live bullets to the set and failure to spot them.

The armorer's lawyers said she was unfairly targeted by police after the shooting while Baldwin, who is also charged with involuntary manslaughter, was left to wander around talking on his phone. Baldwin's lawyers are seeking a June trial.

"I have the weapon, I have the ammo and I have the armorer," retired Santa Fe County Sheriffs Office Lieutenant Tim Benavidez, one of the first officers on the scene, testified Thursday that he told investigators after he held Gutierrez in his pickup truck.

Gutierrez's trial will resume Monday.

(Reporting By Andrew Hay; editing by Donna Bryson and Aurora Ellis)