New Mexico Judge Rejects Request to Compel New Testimony From Movie Armorer in Alec Baldwin Trial

New Mexico Judge Rejects Request to Compel New Testimony From Movie Armorer in Alec Baldwin Trial
Alec Baldwin emcees the Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Ripple of Hope Award Gala at New York Hilton Midtown in New York on Dec. 9, 2021. (Evan Agostini/Invision/AP)

SANTA FE, N.M.—A New Mexico judge denied a request Friday to use immunity to compel testimony from a movie set armorer in the involuntary manslaughter trial of actor Alec Baldwin who fatally shot a cinematographer during rehearsal for the Western movie “Rust.”

Armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed was convicted in March of involuntary manslaughter for her role in the shooting of Halyna Hutchins on a movie-set ranch and she was sentenced to 18 months in prison. Her statements to investigators and workplace safety regulators will likely feature prominently in Mr. Baldwin’s trial, scheduled for July.

Further testimony could be limited by the armorer’s reluctance to testify, and Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer said Friday that other witnesses can fill in most of the gaps if she doesn’t testify. At a pretrial interview in May, Ms. Gutierrez-Reed exercised her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination and declined to answer all questions.

“It’s pretty clear that she does not intend to cooperate,” Judge Marlowe Sommer said. “I haven’t heard of anything that she might testify to that someone else could not testify to.”

But the judge acknowledged that Ms. Gutierrez-Reed could offer new testimony about gun-safety training and whether Mr. Baldwin fully participated.

Special prosecutor Kari Morrissey indicated that the state could still call on Ms. Gutierrez-Reed to testify without immunity. Mr. Baldwin and Ms. Gutierrez-Reed both oppose efforts to compel her testimony.

Mr. Baldwin figured prominently at her trial, which highlighted gun-safety protocols and his authority as a co-producer and the lead actor on “Rust.”

Ms. Gutierrez-Reed is appealing her conviction and has also been charged separately with carrying a firearm into a Santa Fe bar weeks before the fatal shooting.

An attorney for Ms. Gutierrez-Reed said compelling her to testify, even with immunity, would “virtually eliminate” the possibility of a fair trial on the pending firearms charge and could disrupt her appeal.

The virtual hearing also cleared the way for testimony at trial by a “Rust” crew member who says he witnessed the shooting at close range.

In a recent pretrial interview, boom operator Zac Sneesby “revealed that he was standing very close to Mr. Baldwin when he shot and killed Halyna Hutchins,” special prosecutor Erlinda Ocampo Johnson told the court Friday. “Mr. Sneesby specifically said he saw Mr. Baldwin pull the trigger. And as you know, the defense position has always been that he didn’t pull the trigger. Well, now there’s an eyewitness.”

Also during Friday’s hearing, Judge Marlowe Sommer ruled against a request by defense attorneys to dismiss the trial because they said Mr. Baldwin had no reason to believe the gun could contain live ammunition and wasn’t “subjectively aware” of the risks.

The court delayed until Monday discussion of a second motion for dismissal based on the argument that the firearm was heavily damaged during FBI forensic testing before it could be examined for possible modifications that might exonerate the actor.

“The government took the most critical evidence in this case—the firearm—and destroyed it by repeatedly and pointlessly striking it with a mallet,” defense attorneys said in court filings. “Government agents knew that the firearm would not survive.”

Attorneys for Mr. Baldwin are highlighting a previously undisclosed expert analysis that outlines uncertainty about the origin of “toolmarks” on the gun’s firing mechanism. The hearing is scheduled to reconvene Monday.

During the fatal rehearsal on Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin was pointing the gun at Hutchins when it went off, killing her and wounding director Joel Souza, who survived. Mr. Baldwin says he pulled back the gun’s hammer but did not pull the trigger.

Prosecutors plan to present evidence at trial that they say shows the firearm “could not have fired absent a pull of the trigger” and was working properly before the shooting.

At Ms. Gutierrez-Reed’s trial, an FBI expert testified the gun was fully functional with safety features when it arrived at an FBI laboratory. The expert said he had to strike the fully cocked gun with a mallet and break it for the gun to fire without depressing the trigger.

Mr. Baldwin has pleaded not guilty to the involuntary manslaughter charge, which carries a maximum sentence of 18 months in prison.

Judge Marlowe Sommer previously rejected another Baldwin motion for dismissal, ruling that the grand jury was able to make an independent judgement on the indictment.

Last year, special prosecutors dismissed an involuntary manslaughter charge against Mr. Baldwin, saying they were informed the gun might have been modified before the shooting and malfunctioned. But they pivoted after receiving a new analysis of the gun and successfully pursued a grand jury indictment.

By Morgan Lee