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Alec Baldwin, You’re Up: What the ‘Rust’ Producer Gains as Armorer Is Convicted | Analysis

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It was a heartbreaking scene, no matter how you sided: Burly deputies whisking 26-year-old Hannah Gutierrez-Reed off to the adjoining New Mexico jail after a jury declared the “Rust” armorer guilty of involuntary manslaughter. She barely flinched.

Her mother, sitting directly over her right shoulder, shuddered and sobbed; at the back of the room, her father, a global trick-shooting legend who trained her from childhood to wrangle Hollywood’s guns, threw his famously fast hands into the air. Before anyone could even begin to process the judge’s order for immediate remand, Gutierrez-Reed was removing her gold chain necklace, standing up and disappearing behind a heavy self-closing door.

The sequel, set for this summer, will star Alec Baldwin. He is hoping to rewrite the ending.

The “Rust” producer and star, who drew the replica Colt .45 and accidentally killed cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on Oct. 21, 2021, faces his own criminal manslaughter trial, likely to begin in July. Baldwin has been out walking free for the long two-plus years since, just as Gutierrez-Reed did until late Wednesday afternoon.

She now awaits sentencing that could keep her behind bars for the next 18 months. And her conviction holds both advantages and disadvantages for Baldwin’s top-flight defense team to navigate, legal experts tell TheWrap.

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed hears her fate as her mother, Kelly Gutierrez (left) looks on.
Hannah Gutierrez-Reed hears her fate as her mother, Kelly Gutierrez (left) looks on.

On the one hand, with the armorer in jail and assistant director David Halls pleaded out on a misdemeanor negligence charge, there’s less pressure on a jury to hold someone – anyone – accountable for Hutchins’ excruciatingly preventable death. New Mexico prosecutors’ rallying cry has been justice for the Ukrainian mom, who was 42 when she was laid to rest at Hollywood Forever Cemetery. And by degrees, that mission has been fulfilled.

“Alec Baldwin has an advantage in the empty-chair defense,” a tactic shift of blame to a non-present third party, Neama Rahmani, a trial lawyer, former federal prosecutor and president of West Coast Trial Lawyers told TheWrap. “‘She’s totally responsible!’ It’s a ready-made defense there.”

That includes the emotional testimony of Halls. The assistant director, who declared “cold gun” when he handed the weapon to Baldwin, finished his unsupervised release in October – but paid part of the plea deal’s outstanding debt last week when he testified for the prosecution, quavering through the most stirring line from the Gutierrez-Reed trial: “I was negligent in checking the gun.”

“[Baldwin] is going to point the finger and say, ‘The buck stopped with her. Maybe there were other people who should have taken a look at that weapon, but the person in charge of the safety of that weapon – and making sure there’s no live ammo on set – is her,'” Josh Ritter, a Los Angeles defense attorney who spent a decade in the DA’s office, told TheWrap.

Rahmani also noted that much of the prosecutors’ case against Baldwin was laid bare during the Gutierrez-Reed trial, giving his team an edge.

“He has a preview of all the evidence that’s going to come out,” Rahmani said, “and they’ll be able to tailor his defense. He’s got great attorneys and great resources – they can really attack the prosecutors’ case in the way that Hannah Gutierrez-Reed’s team could not.”

Of course, none of that evidence was itself materially helpful to Baldwin’s defense: Jurors saw extensive behind-the-scenes footage of Baldwin in the days before the tragic accident, barking at Gutierrez-Reed to reload his revolver faster, later using it as a “pointing stick” to show cast and crew where to stand.

“That kind of casual, cavalier use of the weapon is really going to be hurtful to him,” Ritter said of the previously unseen footage. “You could see where his defense could say, ‘Listen, I’m an actor. I’m not involved in what goes into the gun. I show up, you show me my mark and I say my lines. I have done this hundreds of times and always expected it not to be loaded.'”

Gutierrez-Reed never took the stand in her own defense. And despite the outcome, that was probably the right call, as legal experts generally agree that it’s never a good idea: “They really have to do a remarkable job of knocking it out of the park,” Ritter said. “If even one thing seems evasive, or not forthcoming, or [prosecutors] catch them up in one little lie – we’re done for. Jurors will hang their hat on that.”

But this is Baldwin, a polished actor and expert improviser, who has already spilled much of his defense publicly, including an interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos just a couple of months after the shooting. Besides, “in the end, jurors love celebrities,” Rahmani, who expects Baldwin to take the stand, said.

Ritter – who does not share that expectation, and believes the ABC interview was a “strategic error” – said only one person can really make that call: Baldwin himself.

“It ultimately lies with him,” Ritter said. “His attorneys are advising him, but it’s the one thing where a client can go over their heads.”

One person who will almost certainly not testify will be Gutierrez-Reed, who has no further advantage to gain in any sort of deal with prosecutors.

“It’s off the board,” Ritter said. “They could still offer her something in the way of what they’ll recommend at sentencing … But you also have to wonder, what could she testify to them that they don’t have already? They’re going to say her actions were independent from his. He should’ve run a tighter ship.”

Baldwin is not in a great bargaining position for a last-minute plea deal, either – a guilty or no-contest plea to criminal involuntary manslaughter could still trigger automatic jail time, and the actor has shown no tendency toward surrender.

“The difficulty with [convicting] him is that you are trying to hold someone responsible where there’s zero evidence that they intended for this to happen, and they are really the last piece – a lot of disastrous things needed to take place before it gets to him,” Ritter said. “Yes, he was holding the gun, but think of all the errors that had to happen before that. At the end of the day, anyone sees this as a horrible accident. [Prosecutors] will have a more difficult hill to climb when it comes to proving his criminal mindset.”

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A timeline of TheWrap’s trial coverage:

Verdict: Wednesday, 3/6: Hannah Gutierrez-Reed found guilty of manslaughter
Day 9: Wednesday, 3/6: Closing arguments, case goes to jury
Day 8: Monday, 3/4: Ammo dealer Seth Kenney denies supplying live rounds
Day 6, Thursday 2/29: Assistant director David Halls gets emotional
Day 6, Thursdsay 2/29: Gun expert shreds blatant “safety violation” videos
Day 5, Wednesday, 2/28: Gutierrez-Reed interview intros “sabotage” theory
Day 4, Tuesday 2/27: Gun expert says Baldwin’s Colt .45 “working perfectly”
Day 3, Monday, 2/26: Grip testifies about “out of the ordinary” gun handling
Day 2, Friday, 2/23: Production testifies about camera crew walk-off
Day 1, Thursday, 2/22: Opening statements

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