EXCLUSIVE UPDATE with reaction from Richard Jones: Midnight Rider director Randall Miller is being released from a Georgia jail today after a motion filed by his attorneys Friday was heard in court this morning. The surprise move came after Assistant District Attorney John Johnson and Miller’s attorneys had negotiated a two-for-one deal in the hallway prior to Miller’s plea agreement a year ago, so Judge Anthony Harrison said today he had no choice but to honor that agreement, follow the law and release Miller.
They decided the two-year sentence was not legal (“improper”), so they had to amend it to one year. (Miller passed the one-year mark in Wayne County jail on March 9). All parties agreed today they would continue the 10-year probation for Miller, who pled guilty to criminal trespassing and involuntary manslaughter in the death of his crew member, 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones.
Under those special terms of that 10-year ruling, Miller is “prohibited from serving as director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production.”
Jones’ father Richard Jones spoke from the heart in court expressing the family’s disappointment but also saying that they hoped they could all put this behind them. “When [Sarah’s mother] Elizabeth and I agreed to this plea, it was our understanding that he would be serving two years in jail. If had we understood that it would have been one year, we would not have agreed,” he said. “I want to be clear that we don’t want to inflict — we don’t mean to inflict more pain to Mr. Miller’s family. We understand that … can imagine it’s been quite a lot of pain for their family, but this is, in our view, about a bigger purpose. It’s about making the film industry a better, safer place. And in order to do so, we feel very strongly that this is an important element that Mr. Miller be held fully accountable for what he did.” He said he and his wife Elizabeth were “disappointed in what is being done here today.”
He said he and Elizabeth have met with many in the film industry, including names like Amanda Seyfried and Clint Eastwood, to talk about safety on the set.
“I hope the message has been sent,” said Judge Harrison. “I’m going to grant the request, because I have to.” He then reiterated to Miller the terms of his probation and told the court officers to remove his shackles.
Miller did not wish to be heard by the court, but his lawyer spoke, noting that his client has served 365 days in jail and in good behavior.
Afterwards, Elizabeth Jones reached out her hand as a gesture of kindness to Miller’s wife Jody Savin, who unexpectedly lashed out at Jones, saying that Miller was innocent and how could they have done this to him as she thought they were Christians.
Once Savin realized she was being taped, she reached her hand out and told our reporter to give her the audio-digital recorder. Our reporter, who had already garnered permission from the court to have audio and video and photographic devices inside the public courthouse, refused.
After that, David Rollins, an author from Australia who says he’s doing a documentary film began dogging the Jones’ down a hallway and outside to try to get an interview. Richard Jones turned and gave a statement to him, but Rollins kept pushing for more. Eventually a member of court stepped in to help the Jones’ get away and escorted them back to the building. Rollins signed Miller’s sister’s petition for early release and also has been a vocal defender of Randall Miller on social media. Rollins and Miller’s sister live in the same city in Australia.
Miller was taken out of court after the ruling to return to the jail to be processed for release. Afterwards, the Joneses got into their car and drove for what is likely the last time away from the area, driving over the Altamaha River to go back home.
Here’s Richard Jones’ reaction to the ruling outside the courthouse today:
The two-for-one agreement the ADA and Miller’s attorneys made trumped Sheriff John Carter’s jurisdiction over whether Miller could get out of the facility. Carter did not take part in the hallway conversation a year ago but was only asked whether Miller could stay in his facility that had a two-for-one program. The sheriff previously told Deadline that they have let out other inmates within the two-for-one program for good behavior, but that was for misdemeanors; it had never been applied to a felony involuntary manslaughter case. He said it would ultimately be up to the court.
Miller’s release comes after the filmmaker’s lawyers tried twice to get him released early from jail, once before the holidays and then again this month after his year-mark in custody on March 9 — both appeals without success. They said that Miller had gained weight which had affected his health and that he should also be let out for good behavior.
Miller, along with his other supervising crew — unit production manager Jay Sedrish and first assistant director Hillary Schwartz — pleaded guilty to felony involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass last year. However, he was the only one of the three to be incarcerated — and the first filmmaker in history to be convicted and thrown in jail for an on-set death. Sedrish and Schwartz got 10 years probation.
Savin, arrived into court about 10:40 AM; she was also initially charged, but that was dropped in a deal that Miller agreed to in order to save her from conviction.
His sentence came after the police investigation found that the movie production company was told it would not be granted access to a rural Doctortown train trestle to shoot a scene. Instead the crew went forward, placing their trusting and unsuspecting crew on the live tracks on February 20, 2014 to “steal a shot,” according to the investigation. Jones was killed and several more were injured when a train plowed through the set.
Jones’ death spawned a set safety movement throughout Hollywood through a Slates For Sarah social media campaign (among others) and prompted the Jones family to start a Safety For Sarah foundation “to foster set safety through awareness and accountability.” Jones’ death also inspired a new app to allow those on set too scared to speak up to report safety violations anonymously.