'Rust' set manager convicted in Alec Baldwin shooting case
By Andrew Hay
(Reuters) -Dave Halls, first assistant director on Western "Rust, was sentenced on Friday for the on-set shooting death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, marking the first conviction for the 2021 fatality which shook Hollywood.
A New Mexico judge approved the set manager's plea deal with prosecutors for a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon for his role in Hutchins' death on a movie set outside Santa Fe.
The conviction marked a step forward for state prosecutors plagued by legal setbacks since they filed charges in January against actor Alec Baldwin and others who handled the gun that killed Hutchins.
District court judge Mary Marlowe Sommer sentenced Halls to a six-month suspended sentence with unsupervised probation, a $500 fine, 24 hours of community service and a firearms safety class.
Hutchins was killed when Baldwin fired a live round from a revolver while rehearsing. As first assistant director, prosecutors said Halls was responsible for set safety on "Rust."
"Halls did not check every round in the gun to confirm it was a dummy round and not a live round," state prosecutor Kari Morrissey told the virtual plea hearing.
Halls, an industry-veteran with over 80 credits including "The Matrix Reloaded" and "The Crow: Salvation," was the only member of the "Rust" cast and crew to enter a plea bargain. Prosecutors said he approached them and was cooperative.
It remains unclear whether he will testify on behalf of the prosecution in a May preliminary hearing where Marlowe Sommer will decide whether there is probable cause to try Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed.
Baldwin pleaded not guilty to a criminal charge of involuntary manslaughter. The actor said he relied on weapons experts - Gutierrez-Reed and Halls - to ensure the firearm was safe to use.
Gutierrez-Reed, who was responsible for firearm safety and training, will also plead not guilty, according to her lawyer.
The case is remarkable in that there is little or no precedent for a Hollywood actor to face criminal charges for an on-set shooting.
Investigators have been unable to discover who brought live rounds on set, an act strictly forbidden by the industry.
“Never in anyone's wildest dreams never, never in anyone's imagination, did anyone think that there could possibly be a live round in the firearm,” said Lisa Torraco, Halls’ lawyer.
She said Halls was suffering from "survivor's guilt" after he only checked the gun for blank rounds, which make an explosive sound and muzzle flash, and dummy rounds - the two types of rounds used on film sets.
The chain of events leading to Hutchins' death remains unclear, though Gutierrez-Reed has said she loaded the live round that killed Hutchins, believing it to be a dummy.
A 2021 police report said Halls announced the weapon was a "cold gun" - an industry term meaning it did not contain rounds with an explosive charge - before handing it to Baldwin.
Halls testified to New Mexico's worker safety bureau in December that it was Gutierrez-Reed who said "cold gun" and gave the revolver to Baldwin. The armorer told the bureau she never used that term and it was Halls who passed the weapon to Baldwin.
Under the charge of involuntary manslaughter, prosecutors must prove Gutierrez-Reed and Baldwin were not only negligent in their handling of the firearm but showed intentional disregard for Hutchins' safety.
(Reporting by Andrew Hay in Taos, New Mexico; Editing by Donna Bryson, Leslie Adler and Aurora Ellis)