EXCLUSIVE: Earlier this month, attorneys for Midnight Rider‘s incarcerated filmmaker Randall Miller — who was sentenced to two years for felony involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass in the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones — sought his early release from jail. The motion noted among the reasons that the Sheriff had “committed to a two-for-one computation of service” as a special condition during his sentencing, meaning Miller would get out of jail in one year instead of two.
That agreement is being strongly disputed by Wayne County (GA) Sheriff John Carter, who told Deadline it was “flat out not true” and that he never committed to anything of the sort.
The motion by Miller’s attorneys states specifically that: “Mr. Miller pled guilty to the charges in this Indictment on March 9, 2015 was sentenced to 10 years probation. A special condition of his probation was that he serve two years in the Wayne County Detention Center with time to be computed by the Sheriff who committed to a a two-for-one computation of service.”
The motion was signed by Miller’s team of attorneys led by Ed Garland. A “two-for-one” computation is used by the Wayne County Detention Center (where Miller has been held since March) for inmates showing such reasons for release as good behavior, meaning that the sentence can be shorted at the discretion of the Sheriff.
“First of all, starting with 10 years probation, that’s not true. He was sentenced to 1o years with two years incarceration and 8 years probation,” Carter said. “I never committed to the two-for-one on this charge. It’s at my discretion, but that two-for-one is used normally for misdemeanor charges. This is a felony charge. All I agreed to is that he served two years in my custody.” Carter strongly disagrees with what was written in the motion. In fact, he said: “The only part I had in this was I was called into the room and asked by the District Attorney and the judge if I would allow him (Miller) to serve at our facility for two years. I agreed to that. His [Miller’s] attorney was involved in that meeting as well.”
Garland said the Sheriff’s words came as a surprise to him. “It is our understanding there was an agreement reached with the District Attorney, the Court was made aware of it, and the Sheriff agreed. He [the Sheriff] may not remember what took place in the pre-trial conference and in the hallway when this was negotiated. My memory is that he was in the pre-trial conference, but I’m not sure on that. There was a meeting in the hallway with him present, the D.A., the ADA, two other attorneys (Miller’s attorney Amanda Clark Palmer was one) and myself, and that was the agreement reached, and he specifically said he would do that.” Repeated calls to the District Attorney’s office were not returned.
Garland went on, acknowledging that the two-for-one computation “is not in the order, and it is up to the discretion of the Sheriff, but he agreed to that and that was the condition of why my client agreed to the plea.” In fact, Garland said that it was a “pre-requisite” for Miller to agree to the plea. “He relied upon those promises and he has been a model inmate and has been entitled to the two-for-one.”
Curiously, the two-for-one agreement Garland alleges was not written into the sentencing order by the Court. According to Miller’s sentencing ruling, it specifically states (among other things): “Defendant shall serve 2 years in custody at the Wayne County Detention Center with time to be computed by the Sheriff.”
Asked why, if in fact, it was a pre-requisite to Miller’s plea that the words were not included in the document, Garland said, “The Court wrote it and just didn’t put it in there. It doesn’t have reference to two-for-one in there, but it has it would be computed by the Sheriff.”
However, Carter was adamant that he never committed to a two-for-one deal in the sentencing: “No, I never committed to that, and I don’t recall that in his sentencing.”
Under Georgia law, it’s up to the Sheriff not the Judge (in this case Anthony Harrison, who sentenced Miller) whether an inmate is given early release from the Detention Center. If Carter gives Miller such a deal, Miller would be out by March 2016.
“It’s my decision on whether I want to do that, but I’m not obligated to do it,” Carter told Deadline. “I’ve gotten about 80 letters — mostly from California. Some are asking for him to be released early, but I have not made my decision on that.”
Garland told Deadline that if his client is not released in March, they will be filing another motion against the Sheriff’s decision.
He also said he filed a supplemental motion today with the court including them and asking Miller to be released immediately for medical care. The supplemental motion, which the law office sent to Deadline, says Miller needs a full work up at a cardiologist. And states that if he can’t be released immediately, then they request to make arrangements to have him released for care with a cardiologist in Southern Georgia. Garland said he also filed a number of letters with the court in support of Miller’s early release and that Miller has paid his $25,000 fine in full.
“Legally and constitutionally, it would be incorrect if he (Miller) did not receive the two-for-one in light of the agreements reached by everyone concerned,” said Garland. “He’s lived up to conditions and having lived up to the conditions, the state is legally bound to give him that credit.” Garland said Miller is confined in a 10 by 10 cell with four to five other inmates and it has no windows. He gets outside about once every two weeks.
Garland told Deadline in March 2015 when Miller entered his guilty plea that he expected him to be released in 12 months. “That’s our expectation.” But he did not say at the time that it was Miller’s “legal right” to be released after a year as the lawyer is doing now.
A hearing on Miller’s early release motion was to be held today on the matter but it was cancelled last week and has not been rescheduled. Oddly, Carter had not been told by the court or the D.A. that the hearing had been canceled.
Asked when the last time he had an inmate charged with a crime as serious as this — felony involuntary manslaughter — Carter said, “I don’t recall ever having a case like this.” He has been in law enforcement in that area for about 25 years.
Deadline asked about why that particular Detention Center was chosen over a penitentiary. Garland said: “The county jail was chosen over the penitentiary because you could choose the two-for-one benefit. It was part of the plea agreement.”
Garland noted that Miller has worked two shifts instead of one as well as teaching inmates GED courses and supervising an intern on a project for the Drug Court. “Everything he has done has been at the request and with the full knowledge and agreement of the Sheriff. He has nothing that has not been in complete compliance with the order of the court.”
After reading the Garland’s initial motion for Miller’s early release, Carter pointed out another inaccuracy: That it wasn’t he who requested Miller’s help with a Drug Court project. In fact, it was the Drug Court judge.
Asked if it mattered what the victim’s family wanted, whether or not Sarah Jones’ parents opinion counted on whether they agree Miller should be released from jail or not, Garland said: “Of course it matters. We feel like the Jones have advocated for their daughter as they should and we should hope at this point they would have accepted his being heartbroken over this tragedy. We hope that they know his sadness and regret from the moment that this happened has been genuine and (he has) accepted responsibility on behalf of all the people (on his filmmaking team) and has done everything to make amends. He has been more than adequately punished, and we have always hoped that they would engage in some forgiveness.”
After Miller pleaded guilty in March, Garland said the major reason his client entered that plea was to save his wife Jody Savin, who was the producer of Midnight Rider, from also going to jail. “We wouldn’t have pleaded guilty if they hadn’t indicted her,” he said in March.
The Joneses, who said they will comment on the matter later, have long maintained that the case is about “accountability” for the death of their daughter.
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