"Rust" assistant director take plea deal, avoids jail time for role in fatal shooting

AP Photo/Andres Leighton

While the charges against actor and “Rust” producer Alec Baldwin and the film’s armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed have gotten most of the press attention, the film’s first assistant director is the first to face legal consequences for the death of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins; though the consequences themselves don’t add up to much at all. David Halls pled “no contest” to a charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon in a Santa Fe, New Mexico courtroom on Friday, and a judge swiftly sentenced him to six months of unsupervised probation.


Halls plea bargain will put pressure on Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed to accept any offer from prosecutors that might come their way, especially with Hallis set to testify at a preliminary hearing for the the two coming up in May.

Halls was in the church building at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, N.M., on Oct. 21, 2021, when Hutchins was killed by a single shot from Baldwin’s Colt .45.

Gutierrez Reed loaded the firearm, which was supposed to contain only dummy rounds. Baldwin was holding it when it fired, though he has denied pulling the trigger.

Halls checked the weapon before it was handed to Baldwin, though the precise nature of his involvement remains in dispute. Baldwin has said that Halls handed him the weapon and declared it a “cold gun,” meaning it did not contain any blank rounds. Gutierrez Reed has also said that she handed it to Halls, and then left the building before Baldwin arrived.

Experts in the use of weapons on set have faulted Halls for handling the gun, saying that only the armorer and the actor should hold it.

Halls has previously disputed Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed’s account, but pleading guilty to a misdemeanor and avoiding a potential jail term must have been too tempting for him to turn down.

In her prepared statement, [prosecutor Kari] Morrissey also noted that there had been two negligent discharges of blank rounds prior to Hutchins’ death, and that the camera crew had walked off the set in part due to safety concerns.

“Obviously this was a very serious incident,” Morrissey said. “A young woman lost her life. There were obvious safety issues on this set, and Mr. Halls was, as the court knows, the safety coordinator on set.”

Halls’ defense attorney, Lisa Torraco, said Friday that Halls disputes the state’s contention that he was ultimately responsible for set safety.

“He can’t control how other people handle firearms,” Torraco said. However, she said that he had agreed to plead no contest to “make things easier for the family.”

“Everybody needs to start processing and moving on,” Torraco said. “Mr. Halls is in a lot of pain and a lot of trauma.”


Lessened, I’m sure, by his escaping the possibility of going to jail over his role in Hutchins’s death.

That’s still a possibility for both Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed, who are facing felony involuntary manslaughter charges, though I’m sure that Morrissey will dangle a plea deal in front of each of them before their cases go to trial. Even without the “celebrity justice” factor (which applies far more to Baldwin than Gutierrez-Reed), the vast majority of felony cases in this country end with a plea bargain and not a verdict from a jury. Morrissey is also a fairly late arrival to the prosecution, taking over after Santa Fe D.A. Mary Carmack-Altwies appointed her and another attorney to oversee the prosecution because her own office is supposedly understaffed. Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb stepped away even earlier after Baldwin’s attorneys challenged her ability to serve as both a special prosecutor and a state legislator.

Carmack-Altwies had already suffered an embarrassing loss when her office was forced to drop a five-year sentence enhancement against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed because it wasn’t in effect at the time of Huchins’ death; a glaring error on the part of the D.A. but an early sign of the chaotic nature of the prosecution to date. At this point Morrissey would probably like this case to just go away, but whether or not she’s willing to plea bargain Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed’s charges to the point that, like Halls, punishment amounts to a short time on probation remains to be seen.


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