Will ‘Rust’ assistant director testimony help prosecutors, or Alec Baldwin?

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Alec Baldwin and ‘Rust crew’ after Fatal Shooting

New Mexico prosecutors building a criminal case against “Rust” movie star Alec Baldwin and armorer Hannah Gutierrez Reed are relying on cooperation from another key figure in the tragedy: the movie’s assistant director, David Halls.

Halls this month accepted a plea deal offered by First Judicial District Atty. Mary Carmack-Altwies. The film industry veteran pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor count of negligent use of a deadly weapon and received a suspended six-month sentence of unsupervised probation, according to documents viewed by The Times.

Halls also agreed to pay a $500 fine, participate in a firearms safety class and complete 24 hours of community service. The plea agreement must be approved by a judge, prosecutors said.


Some observers were surprised by Halls’ relatively light sentence because he was the on-set safety coordinator, responsible for checking the weapons along with Gutierrez Reed, the movie’s armorer.

Halls allegedly shouted “cold gun” before handing the Colt .45 revolver to Baldwin, according to Santa Fe County Sheriff’s affidavits for search warrants. Baldwin was rehearsing a scene with cinematographer Halyna Hutchins and director Joel Souza when the gun went off, killing Hutchins and injuring Souza.

Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed, who acknowledged loading the weapon, on Tuesday were charged with involuntary manslaughter. If convicted of the most serious charge, each would face a mandatory five-year prison sentence.

But it is unclear how much help Halls will provide the prosecution.

Prosecutors have suggested that a felony case against Halls would have been shaky.

Special prosecutor Andrea Reeb told NBC News earlier this month that prosecutors were not certain Halls actually said “cold gun” during the Oct. 21, 2021, rehearsal in the old wooden church at Bonanza Creek Ranch near Santa Fe. “He may have looked at the gun, which he did, but we can’t even say for sure that he actually touched that firearm,” Reeb said.

Cinematographer Halyna Hutchins, one of American Cinematographer’s Rising Stars, was killed on the set of ‘Rust.’ Here’s everything we know so far.

March 7, 2024

Carmack-Altwies, the lead prosecutor, acknowledged in an interview with The Times that she offered the deal to Halls, in part, “based on his cooperation.”

“Dave Halls approached us and was cooperative with our inquiry, with our investigation,” said Carmack-Altwies. “We had a very frank and honest discussion ... and we felt like on the ladder of culpability he was probably still culpable [but] that he was the least culpable of the three people.


“He will be testifying or cooperating in the prosecution,” said Carmack-Altwies.

But Halls’ attorney, Lisa Torraco, told The Times that her client’s plea agreement does not necessarily mean he will testify against Baldwin.

“Dave has agreed that he will testify, and that he will testify truthfully,” said Torraco, a former prosecutor and a prominent Albuquerque attorney. “But maybe he will testify for the defense. Maybe his testimony will be more helpful to Mr. Baldwin.”

A bearded man in a cowboy hat stands outdoors next to filming equipment on a movie set.
A photo released by the Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office shows Alec Baldwin on set immediately following the shooting of Halyna Hutchins and Joel Souza on “Rust.”
(Santa Fe County Sheriff’s office)

The plea agreement, which has been viewed by The Times, requires Halls to “testify truthfully in all hearings, trials, or settings involving any and all Defendants and co-Defendants in the criminal matter.” In addition, Halls must “take responsibility for his actions or inactions,” according to the document.

Halls, 63, must not have “contact with any potential witnesses or Co-Defendants in this case,” the agreement said.

The plea agreement for Halls — a controversial figure in the film industry — adds to the complexity of the prosecution that Carmack-Altwies and Reeb hope to bring. In the coming months, prosecutors must lay out their evidence before a Santa Fe judge, who then will decide whether there is probable cause to move forward with cases against Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed. Their attorneys are promising a vigorous defense.

A woman with short blond hair wearing a blue blazer stands in a hallway, arms crossed.
New Mexico First Judicial District Attorney Mary Carmack-Altwies.
(Kate Russell)

“If you turn state’s evidence first, you tend to get all the legal advantages,” Larry Kopp, chief executive of the TASC Group, a New York public relations firm that represents high-profile clients in legal matters, said of Halls’ plea deal. “The prosecutors use a carrot-and-stick approach to cull out the weak links in the herd.”

Halls was positioned about five feet from Baldwin when the gun went off. Baldwin told investigators he had been rehearsing a cross-draw maneuver when he pulled the pistol from his holster and aimed it at the camera. Hutchins wanted a camera closeup of the barrel of Baldwin’s gun.

“We were standing by, waiting for our scene,” Thomas Gandy, the film’s special effects coordinator, said in an interview this week. He and his son had rigged the church with pyrotechnics that were set to go off to simulate an Old West shootout.

Gutierrez Reed brought Baldwin’s gun inside the church and showed it to Halls, Gandy said. She then “spun the cylinder, like you see in movies when someone is playing Russian roulette,” Gandy recalled. “Then she handed the gun to Dave, and he said ‘cold gun on set’ and handed it to Alec.”

Santa Fe County Sheriff’s affidavits for search warrants also said Halls said “cold gun” before giving the gun to Baldwin, who echoed that account during a December 2021 interview with George Stephanopoulos on ABC.


However, Halls testified that it was Gutierrez Reed who handed the gun to Baldwin — not him. He has said he does not recall saying “cold gun.”

An older man and his daughter stand on an outdoor film set, each holding a gun, with more guns in bins in front of them.
Armorer Thell Reed and daughter Hannah Gutierrez Reed, who was the armorer on “Rust,” pose together on a film set.
(From Thell Reed)

In a deposition last month for administrative hearings over a workplace safety case brought against the “Rust” producers, Halls described the scene.

“Hannah comes in with the revolver, shows me the revolver, we do the gun check. She shows me that the gun is empty, and she hands it to Mr. Baldwin,” Halls said, adding that Gutierrez Reed opened the latch and “I saw the dummy rounds in there. ... I saw three to four.”

There actually were six rounds in the chamber, including the live bullet, according to the sheriff’s department.

Halls, who spent more than 30 years in the industry, acknowledged during his testimony for the New Mexico Environmental Department’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s case against Rust Movie Productions LLC that his primary responsibility on set was “to create a schedule that is efficient. ... To make sure that things are going at the proper pace.”


His safety role was “to make sure that all the departments are following the proper safety protocols,” Halls said at the December deposition, adding his duties did not extend to checking the gun’s mechanisms. Likening the situation to overseeing a movie car chase, Halls said, “I can’t check the brakes.”

Safety questions had been raised about another film involving two of the producers.

Oct. 28, 2021

The “Rust” filmmakers were running behind schedule the day of the fatal “Rust” shooting because most of the camera crew had quit, citing safety issues and a lack of nearby lodging. In an email the night before the shooting, Jonas Huerta, the digital utility technician, sent a resignation email to the production manager, saying he felt “anxious on set.”

“I’ve seen first hand our AD rush to get shots and he skips over important protocols,” Huerta wrote. “Sometimes he rushes so quickly that [a] props [department member] hasn’t even had the chance to bring earplugs and he rolls and the actors fire anyway.”

Questions about safety also were raised on a prior movie set where Halls served as first assistant director.

Months before the “Rust” tragedy during filming of an action thriller in Georgia, first camera assistant Lisa Long raised concerns. She told The Times in 2021 that Halls seemed to show disregard for safety protocols, and she reported his behavior to two producers and a union representative, she said.

On that film, “One Way,” starring Machine Gun Kelly, Halls did not hold a safety meeting before shooting a dangerous scene involving a Russian arm — a crane-like piece of equipment that is attached to a high-speed vehicle during filming, Long said. Two vehicles being used by the production nearly collided, she said.


Through his attorney, Halls declined an interview request for this story.

The documents include a 204-page case report summarizing the investigation, which remains open and ongoing.

April 28, 2022

Halls remains devastated by the “Rust” accident, according to Torraco, his attorney.

In the immediate aftermath of the October 2021 “Rust” shooting, Halls can be seen sobbing after a sheriff’s deputy who had arrived at Bonanza Creek Ranch described Hutchins’ injuries to Baldwin, Halls and other crew members, a video from a deputy’s lapel camera showed.

Halls told investigators that, after the accident, he retired from the film industry.

“I no longer desire to do that job,” Halls said during his December deposition.

He offered his thoughts on the tragedy.

“You cannot put sole responsibility on one person,” Halls said, instead attributing Hutchins’ death to “a series of tragic mistakes that happened. No. 1, a live round of ammunition ending up on a film set.”