EXCLUSIVE; updated with more information: Attorneys for director Randall Miller, who in March was convicted of involuntary manslaughter in connection with the death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of Midnight Rider last year, have filed a motion for his early release from jail.
He had been sentenced to two years in jail in Wayne County, GA, but sources say the appeal for an early release is based on health issues and the claim that he has been a model prisoner. A court official said a date for a hearing on the motion has not been set.
In his motion to modify the sentence, Miller’s attorney, Ed Garland, said, “Mr. Miller has relived the day of the accident over and over and has taken full responsibility.” Even so, the lawyer claimed that “many other people share responsibility for the accident.”
“Mr. Miller‘s focus on the afternoon of the accident was on the creative aspects of the film,” Garland told the court. “He was focused on the actors and how the scene looked through the lens of the camera. For that reason, he relied on the locations department, the first assistant director and the property owner [Rayonier] to ensure that they had the proper permissions to film at the trestle. He knows that in his and the crew’s exuberance to start the movie, the appropriate discussions did not take place and the right safety measures were not taken. For his part, he simply did not question the safety professionals he hired and did not stop to ask or question if he was putting himself and his crew in an unsafe environment.”
Jones died on February 20, 2014, when she was struck by a train while setting up a shot on a narrow trestle on the first day of filming. Several other crew members were injured.
Not long after his conviction, Miller made a similar share-the-blame statement from his jail cell but spread the blame a little broader. “The location manager, the production designer, the unit production manager, the cinematographer, assistant director and others all made mistakes that led to this,” Miller wrote, “but I have taken responsibility because I could have asked more questions, and I was the one in charge.”
His lawyer wrote: “Mr. Miller knows he bears ultimate responsibility for the safety of cast and crew, and he feels immensely guilty that he let them down. In each of his film productions he has worked with many of the same people because he cares for his crew and they know he will treat them well. He is so disappointed with himself that he let them down. Sadly, there is nothing he can do to change that day, and he will live with it forever. However, Mr. Miller did not have any previous charges or claims of unsafe work conditions. He provided a safe work environment for thousands of film industry workers for over 25 years.”
Miller, Garland wrote, “wants to tell his story to others and share how so many things went wrong that day, so that the film industry and movie sets become safe places and others do not make the same mistakes that happened here.”
Garland also wrote that Miller has been an “exemplary inmate” during his nine months of incarceration, producing a film project, at the request of Judge Stephen Kelley and Wayne County Sheriff John Carter, about the benefits and challenges of Georgia’s Drug Court. Apparently, Miller did not direct the film, because the conditions of his plea agreement do not allow him to direct films for 10 years.
“Because of Mr. Miller‘s status in the film industry,” his lawyer wrote, “he was able to raise money from actors and Hollywood executives to film and edit the project, which all involved felt was a worthy endeavor. To be clear, this is not a project that would benefit Mr. Miller financially; its goal is to assist the county in addressing and shedding light on the drug epidemic.”
Garland added that, since the end of August, “Mr. Miller has worked on the project from inside the jail, editing in a corner of the multipurpose room.”
Miller also should get an early release because of his declining health, according to his attorney. “When Mr. Miller, who is 53 years of age, was first incarcerated in March, he weighed 210 pounds. However, over the past few weeks he has inexplicably gained 39 pounds. Two weeks ago a nurse examined him and she found his blood pressure was elevated. He has bilateral edema (swelling) in his legs and also has complained of shortness of breath and a persistent cough for the past eight weeks. Doctors consulted by Mr. Miller‘s family fear that congestive heart failure might be the cause of his sudden weight gain, bilateral edema, shortness of breath and persistent cough; they have determined that an intensive cardiac workup is required to diagnose and treat Mr. Miller’s condition.”
A deal with the prosecutors also allowed for Miller’s two-year jail sentence to be cut in half for good behavior. “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 two-for-one computation of service,” Garland wrote. “On December 9, 2015, he will have served nine months, or 75% of his sentence.”
Garland wrote that “It is the policy of the Wayne County Sheriff’s Department – and in this case, the express commitment of Sheriff Carter – that inmates can earn ‘two for one credit’ with good behavior; meaning that an inmate sentenced to two years in custody would actually serve only one year in custody provided that inmate exhibited good behavior. Georgia law gives the sheriff the authority and power to award two-for-one, or even up to four-for-one credit for time served.”
Additionally, Garland wrote, Miller has paid $14,000 of the $25,000 fine imposed as part of his sentence, and expects to pay the balance of the fine in the next week or two.