‘Rust’ Assistant Director David Halls Pleads No Contest to Misdemeanor Deadly Weapons Charge

The Friday proceedings make the first AD the first “Rust” figure to be held formally accountable for Halyna Hutchins’ death

Alec Baldwin's role in an on-set death on "Rust" highlighted the issue of crew safety.
Alec Baldwin's role in an on-set death on "Rust" highlighted the issue of crew safety.

David Halls, the assistant director on “Rust,” has pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of negligent or unsafe use of a deadly weapon, pending a court review of the plea proposal.

A judge approved the plea agreement to resolve the weapons-related charge against a codefendant in the case against Alec Baldwin concerning the 2021 on-set shooting death of the film’s cinematographer.

Prosecutors announced in January a proposed plea agreement with Halls concerning his responsibilities in the death of Halyna Hutchins.

Halls, who as first AD was the film’s safety coordinator, appeared remotely for the plea hearing before a Santa Fe judge. Asked how he wished to plea, he answered, “No contest, your honor.” He will, in lieu of jail time, serve six months of unsupervised probation.

He is also expected to testify at a preliminary hearing in May, as prosecutors pursue involuntary manslaughter charges against Baldwin and the film’s armorer, Hannah Gutierrez Reed.

Halls was in the church building at the Bonanza Creek Ranch in Santa Fe, New Mexico, on Oct. 21, 2021, when Hutchins was killed by a single shot from Baldwin’s Colt .45. Gutierrez Reed loaded the firearm which was supposed to contain only dummy rounds. Baldwin was holding the gun when it fired, although he denies pulling the trigger.

Halls checked the weapon before handing it to Baldwin, though the nature of his involvement remains in dispute. Baldwin has stated that Halls handed him the weapon and declared it a “cold gun,” which meant it did not contain any blank rounds. Gutierrez Reed has also stated that she handed it to Halls, and then left the church before Baldwin arrived.

Experts in the use of weapons on set have faulted Halls for handling the gun, saying that only the armorer and the actor should hold it. Halls has denied under oath that he handed the gun to Baldwin, stating that he remembers Gutierrez Reed giving it directly to the actor.

He has also testified that he did not say “cold gun.” Halls acknowledged in his initial sheriff’s interview that he should have checked all the rounds, but did not.

At the plea hearing on Friday, prosecutor Kari Morrissey read a statement about Halls’ culpability in the shooting.

“He is the last line of defense. He needed to check and confirm that the rounds in the gun were actually dummy rounds,” she said. “Mr. Halls did not check every round that it was in the gun to confirm that it was a dummy round.”

Morrissey also noted, in a prepared statement, that there had been two negligent discharges of blank rounds prior to Hutchins’ death, and that the camera crew had walked off the set partially due to safety concerns.

“Obviously this was a very serious incident,” Morrissey said. “A young woman lost her life. There were obvious safety issues on this set, and Mr. Halls was, as the court knows, the safety coordinator on set.”

Halls’ defense attorney, Lisa Torraco, said Friday that Halls disputes the state’s contention that he was ultimately responsible for set safety.

“He can’t control how other people handle firearms,” Torraco said. However, she said that he had agreed to plead no contest to “make things easier for the family.”

“Everybody needs to start processing and moving on,” Torraco said. “Mr. Halls is in a lot of pain and a lot of trauma.”

Torraco asked for a deferred sentence, but the judge instead imposed the six-month unsupervised probation term.

In the weeks following the on-set tragedy, Halls stated to the New York Post that “Halyna Hutchins was not just one of the most talented people I’ve worked with, but also a friend. I’m shocked and saddened by her death. It’s my hope that this tragedy prompts the industry to reevaluate its values and practices to ensure no one is harmed through the creative process again.”

Halls had previously been blamed for the 2019 on-set death of a 74-year-old actress on the set of “Freedom’s Path.”

The two prosecutors who filed the charges in January, D.A. Mary Carmack-Altwies and special prosecutor Andrea Reeb, are now both off the case. Carmack-Altwies appointed Morrissey and Jason Lewis, both private attorneys, to take over this past Wednesday.

Carmack-Altwies told a judge Monday that she needed outside help to prosecute the case because her office is short-staffed. The judge ruled that she would have to recuse herself if she was going to appoint special prosecutors. Reeb stepped down after Baldwin challenged her appointment on grounds that she could not prosecute the case while serving in the state legislature.

Baldwin and Gutierrez Reed could face, if convicted, up to 18 months in prison.