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Dramatic ‘Rust’ shooting testimony: ‘The gun went off’ and then, ‘I can’t feel my legs’

David Halls, in a black suit, testifies in court
David Halls, assistant director of the movie “Rust,” testifies in the trial of armorer Hannah Gutierrez on Thursday.
(Gabriela Campos / Santa Fe New Mexican / Pool)
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Breaking more than two years of silence, David Halls, the assistant director of the western movie “Rust,” described in vivid detail witnessing the fatal shooting by Alec Baldwin of the film’s cinematographer, Halyna Hutchins.

On Oct. 21, 2021, Baldwin, the movie’s star, and others were preparing for a scene on the New Mexico set. Baldwin was sitting on a pew in a rustic church, slowly pulling his single-action Colt .45 revolver from his leather shoulder holster and pointing it toward the camera. Baldwin’s character was about to engage in a shootout with two actors portraying lawmen who were storming the church to nab Baldwin, who was playing a hardened outlaw named Harland Rust.

The actor pointed the gun at Hutchins, a rising star in the film industry.

“The gun went off,” Halls said Thursday on the sixth day of testimony during armorer Hannah Gutierrez’s criminal trial in Santa Fe, N.M. Gutierrez has pleaded not guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter and evidence tampering charges. If convicted, she faces up to three years in prison.

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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

Halls said that after the gun fired, Hutchins, who was just 3 feet away from him, collapsed to the floor.

“I might have been the first person to [get to] her. She was on the ground,” Halls said, adding that he looked at her and asked: “‘Are you all right?’”

“She said: ‘I can’t feel my legs,’” Halls recalled, choking up. He pulled a tissue from a box on the witness stand, and wiped his eyes.

Halls is one of three people charged criminally in connection with Hutchins’ death. Last year, Halls pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon and received a suspended six-month sentence, which Halls said ended last October. Halls has agreed to pay a $500 fine, participate in a firearms safety class, refrain from taking drugs or alcohol and complete 24 hours of community service. He also agreed to testify in court about the accident.

Baldwin was indicted last month by a grand jury on involuntary manslaughter charges. Baldwin has denied responsibility for the shooting and pleaded not guilty.

His trial is set for July.

An FBI analyst testified Monday that Alec Baldwin’s “Rust” prop gun was functioning when he received it. Baldwin’s involuntary manslaughter trial will begin with jury selection July 9.

Feb. 26, 2024

Until now, the assistant director, who was also the safety coordinator on the low-budget western, has avoided making public statements about the tragedy. His attorney previously told New Mexico First Judicial District Court Judge Mary Marlowe Sommer that Halls was “rattled by guilt” and has retired from Hollywood after a nearly 40-year career.

On Thursday, he explained why he was eager to testify in Gutierrez’s trial.

“It’s important to me that the truth be known — that Halyna’s husband and son, her family, know the truth of what happened,” Halls said. “It’s important that the cast and the crew and producers of ‘Rust’ know what happened. And it’s important that the industry — the motion picture and television industry — knows what happened so that this never happens again.”

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On Thursday, Halls said Gutierrez first brought him the gun and showed him that the chamber was empty. He said she later returned to the church, showed him dummy rounds in the gun’s chamber and handed the gun directly to Baldwin, who was sitting on a pew, in full costume, in preparation for the scene.

However, Halls’ recollection of that key event varies from other witnesses to the shooting. At least one other crew member testified during the trial that it was Halls who handed the loaded gun to Baldwin, pronouncing it “cold,” meaning there was no live ammunition — such as a blank — inside.

Cameras were not rolling at the time of the shooting.

Assistant director David Halls handed the loaded weapon to actor Alec Baldwin on Oct. 21, 2021, on the “Rust” set. On Friday, Halls pleaded no contest to negligent use of a deadly weapon.

March 31, 2023

Baldwin, in the hours after the shooting, said it was Gutierrez who handed him the gun. But Baldwin has since told Santa Fe County Sheriff’s investigators that Halls handed him the gun. Gutierrez also testified that she was in the church only briefly — to give Halls the gun. She said she spun the cylinder for Halls to see there were dummy, or inert, bullets inside, and left before Halls handed Baldwin the gun.

Gutierrez has testified that she was pulled in two directions, trying to fulfill the role of armorer and props assistant.

Bryan Carpenter, an experienced film armorer and former law enforcement officer, testified earlier Thursday that a gun-heavy film like “Rust” should have had two armorers, not one inexperienced weapons handler trying to juggle two key roles.

Another witness, dolly grip Ross Addiego, testified earlier in the week that he, too, was in the church on the fateful afternoon. Addiego said he saw Halls give Baldwin the gun.

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Addiego also testified that Halls would frequently skip safety meetings. Halls said Thursday that such meetings were not required.

The production on “Rust” was rushed, Addiego said, describing it as “ludicrous” pace of filming for a western movie.

Interviews with multiple members of the “Rust” crew paint an hour- by-hour picture of a cascade of bad decisions that created a chaotic set on which a lead bullet was put into a prop gun.

Oct. 31, 2021

Addiego described increased “chaos” the day of the tragic shooting, which came the morning after six camera crew members quit in protest, citing safety lapses on set and a lack of nearby lodging. Instead of pausing the production, production managers pressed ahead by scrounging up a couple new camera operators.

Because of the walk-off by the camera crew, filming was running about two hours behind schedule, witnesses have testified. The video village on set, which typically allows the director, cinematographer and others to remotely watch the camera action, was not in use. Because of that, Hutchins and director Joel Souza were in the church “blocking” the scene with Baldwin and Halls.

Halls said Thursday that he quickly left the church after the shooting, but later returned.

“I went back into the church. I went to the pew ... [and] I grabbed the revolver,” Halls said. “I left the church, I went to Miss Gutierrez‘s [prop] cart ... I took it to her and I said I need you to unload that gun. I need to know what is in it.”

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The trial, streamed live by Court TV, is expected to last through March 6.

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