JESUP — Citing an unlawful sentencing, the director of the “Midnight Rider” movie, a proposed Greg Allman biopic, was released from Wayne County jail Wednesday after serving one year and 14 days of his two-year sentence.
Wayne County Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison ordered that Randall Miller, the first film director to be jailed for a film-related death, be released immediately.
Brunswick Judicial Circuit District Assistant District Attorney John Johnson and Miller’s attorneys, Ed Garland, negotiated the plea last year just days before jury trial was set to begin. Miller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass, which resulted in the death of the movie’s second camera assistant, Sarah Jones.
The death occurred Feb. 20, 2014, when Jones was struck by a train while the crew attempted to shoot a scene on the Doctortown train trestle near Jesup. The crew was under the impression it had permission to be there, but Miller failed to follow safety procedures and trespassed, the prosecution contended.
Under the plea agreement, Miller was sentenced to 10 years, with two to serve in the county jail and the remainder on probation.
According to Johnson, the two parties entered into the agreement with the knowledge that Miller would likely be given the 2-for-1 sentencing incentive offered by the county jail despite the wording not being included in the language of the plea.
However, Wayne County Sheriff John Carter was not made aware of the 2-for-1 offer, nor was the language included into the sentencing document.
The county jail falls under the direction and jurisdiction of Carter. Carter said he was asked if the jail offers the credit, but was not aware it was being offered as a term of the plea. He said 2-for-1 deals are only offered for misdemeanor offenses, not felonies.
“It’s improper,” Johnson said. “The way it was written up is improper. Therefore we’ve got to do something to correct that, or the sentence remains an improper sentence. … Under the original agreement that we thought we had … the understanding that we had is that he would be released after serving time and getting credit for good time. ... Since then, we have determined that the sheriff’s policy actually applies to misdemeanors, but … in the situation we are now in, we believe we have to honor the original agreement we entered.”
Harrison said the circumstances left him no choice but to release Miller based on the language of the law.
“I am constrained to comply with the law,” Harrison said. “I am going to grant this amended sentence because I have to.”
Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, were in court. Richard Jones offered a statement saying they would have never allowed the plea to occur if they knew he would only serve one year. He went on to say they were disappointed but ready to move forward and put the matter behind them.
“Your honor, Sarah Jones is gone from this world,” Richard Jones said. “We can’t get her back. … When Elizabeth and I agreed to this plea, it was our understanding that he would be serving two years in jail. If we had understood it would be one year, we would not have agreed. I want to be clear that we do not mean to inflict more pain to Miller’s family. … We imagine there has been quite a lot of pain. … But this is, in our view, about a bigger purpose. … We are disappointed in what is being done here today.”
Miller’s wife, Jodi Savin, who was spared prosecution under her husband’s plea agreement, lashed out at Elizabeth Jones, who extended her hand out as a peace offering between the two families. Savin was overheard to say she did not understand why the Joneses wanted to continue keeping her husband away from his wife and children, calling the Joneses “un-Christian.” She added that she felt the Joneses had a personal vendetta on pinning the entire incident strictly on her husband.
Miller was taken back to jail, processed and released. He will have to serve nine years on probation and refrain from working in certain aspects of the film industry.