Published May 02, 2016
The father of a film worker killed by a train during shooting of a movie about singer Gregg Allman said Tuesday that granting the film's director early release from a two-year jail sentence for involuntary manslaughter would send a message "that Hollywood gets a break."
Former "Midnight Rider" director Randall Miller has asked a Georgia judge to set him free less than a year after he pleaded guilty to felony charges in the February 2014 train collision. A 27-year-old camera assistant, Sarah Jones, was run over by a freight train as Miller's crew filmed a scene on a railroad bridge without a permit from the trestle's owner.
Miller's attorneys say he deserves to be freed early because of good behavior as well as concerns for the 53-year-old director's health.
Jones' father, Richard Jones, responded with a letter to Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison asking him to deny the director's request.
"There is a need to maintain a strong message to the film industry that those in charge of their cast and crew will be held responsible for their safety," Jones' father wrote in a letter dated Monday. "That such reckless disregard for safety will not be tolerated."
Miller's plea deal last March not only spared him from a possible 11-year-prison sentence if he was convicted by a trial jury, but it also included an agreement by prosecutors to drop criminal charges against the director's wife and business partner, Jody Savin.
Asked by phone Tuesday what he feared the message would be if Miller won early release after serving less than half his jail term, Richard Jones said: "That Hollywood gets a break. I'm not going to say it's a slap on the wrist. But it certainly sends a message of leniency."
Miller's attorney, Ed Garland, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment.
A legal motion by Miller's lawyers says his family is concerned that recent weight gain, shortness of breath and elevated blood pressure the director has experienced in jail may be signs of congestive heart failure. It also says he's been a model prisoner who has worked long hours in the jail laundry, tutored inmates in a GED program and helped edit a film on the local drug court.
"Mr. Miller has relived the day of the accident over and over and has taken full responsibility," the director's court filing said.
His attorneys also wrote that Wayne County Sheriff John Carter has the authority to reduce Miller's sentence by half for good behavior -- which would mean the director could be released in early March, even if the judge denies his request.
Carter said Tuesday he doubts that he could free Miller early because the director was jailed for a felony. He said Georgia law gives sheriffs leeway to shorten the sentences of inmates jailed for misdemeanors or for probation violations.
"The only thing I agreed to when they were doing the plea bargain was about him serving his two years in my jail rather than in prison," Carter said. "I don't know that I've got any authority to grant early release on a felony."