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'Rust' movie shooting trials underway: What happens next for Alec Baldwin and his armorer?

Given that a talented cinematographer is dead and someone may yet go to prison, the troubled Alec Baldwin movie “Rust” will remain infamous regardless of its cinematic merits.

The “Rust” saga takes a darker turn with the ongoing trial of movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed as New Mexico prosecutors seek to convict her of involuntary manslaughter.

Prosecutors will argue she was to blame for live ammunition ending up in a prop gun that discharged during rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021, killing cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. Defense attorneys will argue that Baldwin, also a “Rust” producer, oversaw a sloppy set that led to the accidental death.

Prosecutors are hoping to finally secure a conviction. Some participants in the “Rust” tragedy have struck plea bargains, and a past charge against Baldwin was suddenly dropped. The actor was re-charged by prosecutors in January and the First Judicial District Court in Santa Fe has set a trial date of July 10.

Everything you need to know: 'Rust' trial for armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed begins

Alec Baldwin, seen here in his costume from the Western move "Rust," has been re-charged in the death of the film's cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. His trial is set for July.
Alec Baldwin, seen here in his costume from the Western move "Rust," has been re-charged in the death of the film's cinematographer Halyna Hutchins. His trial is set for July.

“These trials will have far-reaching consequences for the movie industry,” says Miguel Custodio, co-founder of Los Angeles-based law firm Custodio & Dubey. “Regardless of what happens, it’ll likely mean a move away from using real guns and requiring far more safety on sets.”

Here are some of the bigger questions around the case:

What is armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed charged with in the ‘Rust’ shooting?

Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, 26, is charged with two counts of involuntary manslaughter in the death of Hutchins, as well as tampering with evidence.

The involuntary manslaughter charges are related to her being responsible for gun safety on the set, which includes making sure live ammunition does not make its way into real firearms.

The latter charge is connected to text messages that prosecutors say show Gutierrez-Reed was using alcohol and cocaine, including on the night before the shooting. She also allegedly asked a friend to keep a small amount of cocaine for her after she was questioned by authorities about the shooting.

In this image from video, "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, right, speaks with a sheriff’s deputy as a colleague stands next to her on the set, shortly after the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.
In this image from video, "Rust" armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, right, speaks with a sheriff’s deputy as a colleague stands next to her on the set, shortly after the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins.

“It’ll be an interesting trial to watch because she’ll be throwing Baldwin and the production under the bus,” Custodio says. “The focus will be on how the set was in chaos.”

What is Alec Baldwin charged with in the shooting death of Halyna Hutchins?

Baldwin, 65, was charged with involuntary manslaughter on Jan. 19, 2023, but those charges were dropped three months later after prosecutors said they wanted more time to examine evidence.

Baldwin was charged again exactly one year later, on Jan. 19, 2024.

The refiled charges stemmed in part from new evidence showing the gun’s trigger had to have been pulled in order to fire the bullet that killed Hutchins. Baldwin had said he never pulled the trigger. His trial begins July 10.

“Prosecutors will want to first see what kind of conviction they can secure in the Gutierrez-Reed trial, which is an easier case by far,” says David Sirotkin, a partner at Morelli Law Firm in New York, which has handled high-profile entertainment cases such as Tracy Morgan’s suit against Walmart. “After this one, they’ll see where they’re at with Baldwin.”

Will Hannah Gutierrez-Reed go to prison for the ‘Rust’ shooting?

Legal experts say Gutierrez-Reed faces an uphill battle. “There were a lot of people at fault on this set, but she’s going to bear the brunt of it, partly because she doesn’t have the (financial) resources that Baldwin has,” Sirotkin says.

Tre Lovell, entertainment attorney with Los Angeles-based The Lovell Firm, adds: “Hannah is the most likely person to go to jail here, because simply put, her job was to make things safe. Even if the set was a mess, this was her job, and you can’t delegate it.”

What’s more, “jurors tend not to react well if they hear someone is getting high and then a tragic accident happens,” Custodio says. “It’s one thing if your job is hard; it’s another if you are partying while you’re doing it.”

If Gutierrez-Reed is convicted, she could face 18 months in prison.

Halyna Hutchins, left, with her son Andros and husband Matthew. Matthew Hutchins is now a producer on the film "Rust," which resumed shooting after Hutchins was killed when a prop gun held by Alec Baldwin discharged.
Halyna Hutchins, left, with her son Andros and husband Matthew. Matthew Hutchins is now a producer on the film "Rust," which resumed shooting after Hutchins was killed when a prop gun held by Alec Baldwin discharged.

Will Alec Baldwin go to prison for his involvement in the ‘Rust’ tragedy?

As an actor, Baldwin bears essentially no responsibility for Hutchins’ death, experts say. “If I’m out in the street and someone hands me a gun and I shoot it and injure someone, I’m negligent, but not so on a movie set where my only job is to act,” Lovell says.

Alec Baldwin, right, and wife Hilaria attend a gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Nov. 30, 2023, in New York City.
Alec Baldwin, right, and wife Hilaria attend a gala at the American Museum of Natural History on Nov. 30, 2023, in New York City.

Much more likely is an effort by prosecutors to argue that Baldwin as a producer is responsible for creating an atmosphere that led to the accidental death. Evidence includes crew walking off the set in response to poor working conditions, reports that live rounds were being fired for target practice, and slack adherence to gun safety training protocols.

“If you’re trying to get Baldwin by saying he showed up on set, received a gun that he was told was safe, and shot it and killed someone, that’s a very tough case,” Sirotkin says.

Lovell says Baldwin may not show up when his trial starts. “I don’t think he’ll testify, and I don’t think he’ll be convicted,” he says.

When and where can I see the movie ‘Rust’?

A release date for “Rust” has not been announced. But the movie did resume filming in Montana at Yellowstone Movie Ranch after the tragedy that unfolded at its original location, the Bonanza Creek Ranch outside Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The Western tells the story of a 13-year-old boy fending for himself and his younger brother after the death of his parents, and he's sentenced to be hanged for the accidental killing of a rancher. Baldwin plays Harland Rust, the boy’s estranged grandfather, who now must keep the boys safe.

When filming wrapped last spring, Baldwin shared photos on Instagram, focusing on his young co-star, Easton Malcolm, whom he called “the next Brad Pitt, I kid you not.”

In another post, Baldwin said, “It’s been a long and difficult road, but we reach the end of the trail today.”

The movie's production trail may be over, but its grim trials are just beginning.

Contributing: Morgan Lee, The Associated Press

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Alec Baldwin, armorer head to trial for 'Rust' shooting: What we know