EXCLUSIVE: Incarcerated filmmaker Randall Miller and his attorneys have filed a motion to strike an online petition from the court record that’s been signed by Sarah Jones’ co-workers, family and friends requesting that he not be given early release from jail (read it here). Even the Assistant District Attorney who prosecuted the case has signed the petition, as did many of Miller’s former co-workers who didn’t even know Jones but knew of Miller’s alleged penchant for cutting corners at the expense of safety on previous films.
Citing Georgia law, Miller’s lawyer argued that the petition was signed by people who did not know Miller and “have made assumptions based on the sensationalized reports in the media.” Because of that, he wrote, the petition “does not meet the criteria for character evidence or victim impact evidence.” In addition, the motion to strike states that “they are not privy to all the facts of the case, or the evidence.”
Assistant D.A. John Johnson, the prosecutor who was privy to all the facts of the case, disagrees. The petition, which has been signed by more than 5,000 people, is just as important to the court record as a counter petition signed by Miller’s friends and family “who don’t know anything about the case,” he told Deadline. That counter petition for Miller’s early release, which was started by Miller’s sister, has apparently been removed from the Change.org website where it had been posted.
Johnson said that he will file a brief tomorrow arguing that the petition against Miller’s early release should be kept as part of the court record. Asked if he had signed the petition, he said: “I signed it, absolutely. We reached an agreement. The agreement was that he would serve two years in county jail, and eight years’ probation. Now he wants to change the agreement.”
Johnson said that as part of that agreement, Wayne County Sheriff John Carter can, at his own discretion, reduce the two-year jail term to one year, with time off for good behavior, which could see Miller released from custody as early as March 9, 2016. Johnson said does not object to that. What he objects to is Miller being released before March 9, as Miller has requested.
However, Sarah Jones’ parents strongly objected to Miller getting of jail sooner than March 9, 2017. They wrote that in a letter sent to Judge Harrison and Sheriff Carter just this week, saying they were under the impression that Miller was going to serve a full two-year sentence in jail.
Miller pleaded guilty in March of this year to criminal trespass and felony involuntary manslaughter in the death of their daughter, a 27 year-old camera assistant, who was killed nearly two years ago on the first day of filming of Midnight Rider when they went onto a train trestle without permission and began filming. The crew was not aware that they were on the tracks illegally. Several others were injured, some seriously.
The motion for early release filed by Miller’s attorneys stated that Sheriff Carter had already agreed to a 2-for-1 computation, which the Sheriff told Deadline was “flat out not true.” Miller’s attorney Ed Garland told Deadline that the Sheriff had agreed to that during a hallway meeting where he, other attorneys and the D.A. was present.
Carter said, in fact, he was only called in to see if he would house Miller at his jail for two years. He reiterated that to Deadline again this morning.
Asked about Carter’s stance, Johnson said, “The Sheriff agreed that he (Miller) would stay there. The defendant was aware of what the policy was, the Sheriff is and we are aware of the policy. We all knew that he was sentenced to two years and that the policy of the jail was if he does community service, he is eligible for two-for-one. I don’t think John (Sheriff Carter) was there for that (conversation in the hallway). I don’t think agreed to that, but he has to follow his policy.”
Carter said that he does have that policy and said up until now the policy has all been applied to misdemeanor cases. This case, he said, is the first felony involuntary manslaughter case the jail has had since he can remember, and he has made no determination about the Miller case.
Johnson, who is prosecuting the case, countered: “His policy applies to anyone incarcerated in his jail. He was sentenced to two years. What he (Carter) can do is reduce the two-year sentence to less than that.”
Meanwhile, several crew members who had worked with Miller on other film projects were among those who had signed the petition to keep him behind bars, saying that they did so because of their own personal experiences while working with him, and not because of any reports in the media.
Diane Hounsell was the script supervisor on Savannah, which Miller produced. She acknowledged that she signed the petition and told Deadline she witnessed “various cost-cutting measures that were questionable” that she felt jeopardized safety. For example, she said that in one scene, the lead actor’s character was supposed to be drunk while riding a horse down the street. “I turned to (unit production manager) Jay Sedrish and asked, ‘Where’s the stunt rider?’ and he said, ‘We don’t have a stunt rider.'” She felt the scene was dangerous because the horse was “rearing and agitated.”
Miller produced Savannah with his wife Jody Savin, who was also charged in the Midnight Rider case but was let go in exchange for her husband’s guilty plea. Like Miller, Sedrish also pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespassing in the Midnight Rider case, but got no jail time.
In the petition, Hounsell wrote: “I worked with Randall Miller, & Jay Sedrich on another movie where I witnessed negligence concerning safety for the crew & cast. Miller does not deserve early release.”
Annika Pampel was an assistant to the Annette Haywood-Carter, the director of Savannah, and later, the assistant to one of the film’s stars, Chiwetel Ejiofor. She acknowledged that she signed the petition, on which she wrote: “I have worked with this entire team on a movie called Savannah. I know how he endangered people and saw his crew as expendable. I knew Sarah personally and know that a few months won’t change Randy.”
Katie Dover, a costumer who was significantly injured on the set of Miller’s previous film CBGB, said she signed the petition “because I know from personal experience. They had no medic on the set. They knew what they were doing. They set it up for disaster.”
Another crew member who worked as assistant propmaster on CBGB was John “J” Fegan from Albuquerque who also confirmed to us that it was he was the same John Fegan who signed the petition. “On CBGB, there were numerous times that we were on city streets, such as Congress in Savannah, with no lock-up whatsoever, allowing civilian traffic to flow through the set while we were shooting, and that was both foot traffic and motor vehicles,” he remembers. “The simple fact that we were doing in excess to 16 1/2- to as much as 18-hour days on the film during entire weeks working like that. It was at a crazy pace and was completely unnecessary. It was joked about numerous times by his wife (Savin) and him (Miller) that it was Unclaimed Freight’s guerrilla style of shooting and we were supposed to get used to it.
“We were shooting during June, July and August where it was in excess of 100 degrees and 116 degrees heat index, and I thought it was crazy they didn’t shut production down. It all went down from there with Randall screaming and yelling on the set, and then that would filter down to Hillary Schwartz and she would scream at us,” said Fegan. “The worst person I’ve ever worked with was Hillary Schwartz. She would get inches from your face and scream ‘hurry up, hurry up’ like a drill sergeant. I could not believe the behavior of this woman, and could never understand why Miller and Savin didn’t intervene and why they conducted their business like this.” Schwartz also pleaded guilty to criminal trespassing and felony involuntary manslaughter.
Fegan said he was contacted by Savin before the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider and asked to come aboard the crew. “The first question I asked was if Hillary was going to be the first (assistant director) and she said yes, so I refused to do the project.”
Fegan wrote on the petition: “I have worked for him and his company Unclaimed Freight and know they practice unsafe production practices. He needs to be held accountable and do his time.”