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‘Rust’ movie producers ordered to turn over documents

A sign directs people to the road that leads to the Bonanza Creek Ranch where the movie "Rust" was being filmed on Oct. 22, 2021, in Santa Fe, New Mexico. (Sam Wasson/Getty Images/TNS)

A New Mexico judge on Friday ordered “Rust” movie producers to turn over records demanded by a special prosecutor who is seeking accountability in the fatal accidental shooting of the film’s cinematographer by actor Alec Baldwin.

The movie’s producers have been trying to quash a subpoena requesting documents, including its contracts with Baldwin, who was one of the low-budget film’s producers as well as its star. They also are seeking agreements and memos between the producers and Baldwin’s production company, El Dorado Pictures.

The special prosecutor wants to learn more about Baldwin’s financial arrangements — and whether he stood to profit if the movie was delivered on time and under budget.

The special prosecutor, Kari T. Morrissey, is probing why production managers denied a request by weapons handler Hannah Gutierrez Reed for additional days to train Baldwin on the use of his .45 caliber revolver. The gun fired during a rehearsal when Baldwin was practicing a cross-draw maneuver. Firearms experts have said Baldwin likely pulled the trigger, which Baldwin denies doing.

During Friday’s court hearing in Santa Fe, conducted virtually, Morrissey said the producers’ actions contributed to the deadly October 2021 shooting that claimed the life of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, 42, near Santa Fe.

Morrissey also alleged that producers have attempted to thwart aspects of the criminal investigation.

“Rust Productions has either intervened, interfered or obstructed the criminal investigation in this case,” Morrissey told the judge overseeing “Rust” criminal prosecutions. “This entire tragedy occurred because Rust Productions cut corners every chance they could and they hired inexperienced and ill-equipped crew members.”

The special prosecutor is pursuing felony involuntary manslaughter charges against the armorer Gutierrez Reed, who acknowledges loading the weapon which was given to Baldwin by another crew member that day. The film’s assistant director, David Halls, pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of negligent use of a deadly weapon earlier this year. Halls has since retired from the film industry.

Morrissey has not ruled out bringing new counts against Baldwin, who was initially charged with involuntary manslaughter.

But after Morrissey and her law partner Jason J. Lewis took over the troubled “Rust” prosecution last spring, they dropped the charges against Baldwin, saying new information had come to light that needed to be investigated.

Baldwin later traveled to Montana to complete filming of the western movie.

Sources told the Los Angeles Times that prosecutors were told that the gun had been modified before arriving on set, potentially making it easier for it to discharge. However, the weapons provider, Seth Kenney, has stated during questioning that the gun wasn’t altered. Kenney said he had just received the weapon — a Pietta-manufactured replica of a vintage 1880s Colt .45 — from his supplier, before turning it over to film’s prop master.

Baldwin and other producers have said they are not to blame for the actions of others in the crew.

“Rust” producers have received scrutiny for their management of the conditions on the set of the western.

New Mexico’s Occupational Safety and Health Bureau originally filed a complaint, saying “Rust” managers “demonstrated plain indifference” to employee safety and levied a $136,793 fine for safety violations that led to the death of Hutchins.

Camera crew members walked off the set hours before the fatal shooting, protesting what they called safety concerns.

After an appeal by the producers, the safety violations fine was reduced to $100,000. New Mexico regulators also agreed to downgrade its citation of the violations from “willful-serious” to “serious.”

On Friday, the lawyer for Rust Movie Productions suggested the state’s efforts to obtain documents was a back-door way to glean information to potentially bring new criminal charges against the high-profile actor.

“The state has made it very clear in its statements that it’s still considering bringing charges against Alec Baldwin,” attorney Abigail R. Wolberg said during Friday’s hearing. “I see these subpoenas as nothing more than continuing down that path.”

Instead, Wolberg laid responsibility for the tragedy on Gutierrez Reed, who Wolberg said was an independent contractor — not an employee of Rust Movie Productions. Wolberg said documents the prosecutor sought were irrelevant to the state’s case against Gutierrez Reed.

“The real question for the state, for the court, for the jury will be about her conduct and what she agreed to,” Wolberg said.

“How Alec Baldwin was paid, how much money was spent on set, how much money went into (the film) … doesn’t assist in investigating the defendant’s allegations that she, as a contractor, was requested to do certain things,” Wolberg said.

Morrissey, the special prosecutor, struck back, alleging the movie producers have tried before to influence the criminal case.

“Beginning on Oct. 21, 2021, Rust Productions had a lawyer on the scene within 30 to 60 minutes after this fatal shooting, who was running around and talking to witnesses before the police could speak to those witnesses,” Morrissey said.

“Since then, we have issued numerous subpoenas to Rust Productions and they have either … not responded or responded very, very slowly,” Morrissey said.

Morrissey told the judge that one of Gutierrez Reed’s defenses was that she recognized Baldwin needed more gun training, but production managers denied her request for additional training days.

Gutierrez Reed was struggling to fill two jobs on the production — armorer and props assistant. Emails have shown that Gutierrez Reed was scolded for not paying enough attention to her role helping with non-gun-related props.

Morrissey said producers had a financial incentive to reduce the amount of time that Gutierrez Reed spent on her armorer duties because she was paid a higher rate for that time. She was paid a lower hourly rate for the time spent dealing with other props.

“We have a situation where Rust Production is doing everything it can to keep costs low so that it can keep profits high,” Morrissey said, adding that because he was one of the films producers, “Mr. Baldwin himself benefits financially from keeping production costs low.”

Attorneys for Baldwin were not immediately available for comment.

New Mexico First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer ruled the “Rust” producers must turn over the documents that Morrissey requested by Oct. 20 — the eve of the second anniversary of the tragedy.

Prosecutors have stepped up their case against Gutierrez Reed, who has pleaded not guilty to involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering charges. Morrissey has said Gutierrez Reed was “the most culpable defendant in a case that resulted in the senseless death of another person.”

In June, special prosecutors accused Gutierrez Reed of drinking and smoking marijuana during off-hours while the western was in production. They have alleged that she probably was hung over on the fatal day when Baldwin’s gun fired during the rehearsal in an old wooden church at Bonanza Creek Ranch. Her attorneys have challenged the allegations, saying there was no proof of drug use.


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