A codefendant in the case against actor Alec Baldwin in the fatal 2021 shooting of a cinematographer on a movie set in New Mexico was convicted Friday of unsafe handling of a firearm and sentenced to six months of probation.
Safety coordinator and assistant director David Halls also must pay a $500 fine, complete a gun-safety course and 24 hours of community service after agreeing to the conviction related to the death of Halyna Hutchins on the set of the Western movie “Rust.”
Under the plea agreement, Halls agreed to testify truthfully at any upcoming hearings or trials. That includes criminal proceedings against Baldwin and movie armorer Hannah Gutierrez-Reed, who have pleaded not guilty to charges of involuntary manslaughter in Hutchins’ death.
Halls appeared briefly by video to waive his right to challenge the negligence charge, as state District Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer approved terms of a plea agreement with prosecutors.
Defense attorney Lisa Torraco urged the court not to impose a prison sentence — the maximum possible penalty was 6 months behind bars — noting that Halls was “extremely traumatized and “rattled” with guilt.
Hutchins died shortly after she was shot on October 21, 2021, during rehearsals on a film-set ranch on the outskirts of Santa Fe. Baldwin was pointing a pistol at Hutchins when the weapon went off; a single live round killed her and wounded director Joel Souza.
If convicted of involuntary manslaughter, Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed could face a maximum penalty of 18 months in prison and fines.
Torraco said Halls had checked the rounds in the revolver before handing it to Baldwin to see whether they were dummies or blanks with an explosive. She said it was “never in anyone’s imagination” that live rounds would be in the gun.
“When Ms. Gutierrez-Reed brought the firearm ... on set into the church, he did check the firearm,” she said of Halls. “He wouldn’t have even thought that there was a live round in that, in that gun. ... And he, like many others, is extremely traumatized.”
But prosecutor Kari Morrissey said Halls, a veteran filmmaker of more than 30 years, failed in his duty as the last line of defense for firearms safety, and that the fatal shooting took place after two earlier weapons misfires on set.
“Mr. Halls did not check every round that was in the gun to confirm that it was a dummy round and not a live round,” she said. “He then handed the gun to Mr. Baldwin and Mr. Baldwin began to practice his cross draw. And during that action of practicing the cross draw, the gun went off. And obviously Mrs. Hutchins was struck by the bullet and was killed. That is the factual basis for Mr. Halls taking the no contest plea to the unsafe handling of a deadly weapon.”
In separate regulatory proceedings, workplace safety authorities have asserted Halls shared responsibility for identifying and correcting any hazardous conditions related to firearms safety in the movie’s production.
Halls’ sentencing took place on the 30th anniversary of the death of Brandon Lee. The son of martial-arts legend Bruce Lee was hit by a .44-caliber slug from a gun that was supposed to have fired a blank while filming “The Crow.”
A weekslong preliminary hearing in May will decide whether evidence against Baldwin and Gutierrez-Reed is sufficient to proceed to trial.
In her sentencing, Judge Marlowe Sommer confirmed with Halls that he would “testify truthfully in all hearings, trials, or settings involving any and all defendants and co-defendants in this matter.” Prosecutors can reopen the case if Halls violates the terms of the plea agreement.
Santa Fe’s district attorney this week appointed two special prosecutors, Morrissey and Jason Lewis.
The original special prosecutor, Andrea Reeb, resigned following missteps in the initial filing of charges against Baldwin and objections that her role as a state legislator created conflicting responsibilities.
Sign up for our weekly newsletter to get more English-language news coverage from EL PAÍS USA Edition