- Wednesday, Mar. 23, 2016
- SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP)
A movie director was released from jail Wednesday after serving a year behind bars for the death of a crew member killed by a train during filming of a movie about singer Gregg Allman.
A Superior Court judge ordered former "Midnight Rider" director Randall Miller to be set free after a hearing at which prosecutors agreed Miller's good behavior had earned him early release halfway through a two-year sentence.
"He was still in shackles when I last saw him, but he was very glad the sentence was behind him," Don Samuel, one of Miller's defense attorneys, said by phone after leaving the courthouse in rural Wayne County. "He's moving on and he's going to be on an overnight flight to California."
Wayne County Sheriff John Carter confirmed that Miller had been freed shortly after his court appearance Wednesday. The director had been jailed since March 9, 2015, when he pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter in the death of 27-year-old camera assistant Sarah Jones.
Miller had just begun making a biographical movie about the Allman Brothers Band singer on Feb. 20, 2014, when a freight train plowed into his crew during filming on a railroad bridge spanning the Altamaha River about 70 miles southwest of Savannah.
The train ran over Jones, killing her, and injured six other film workers. Investigators found evidence that CSX Transportation, which owned the train trestle, had denied permission in writing to Miller's crew when asked if it could shoot on the tracks.
Jones' parents told Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison they opposed any early release. Her father, Richard Jones, said his chief concern wasn't about punishing Miller but rather sending a strong message to Hollywood to improve safety conditions on film sets.
"The message we did not want to send is that because you may be a movie director, you may be getting off lightly," Richard Jones said after the hearing. "Sarah's dead for heaven sakes. These were just blatant decisions that put these people in danger unnecessarily."
Miller's attorneys had been pushing for months for the 53-year-old director to be freed early, not only because of his good behavior while jailed but also citing concerns for his health.
Miller's plea deal spared him from a possible 11-year prison sentence had he been convicted by a jury. As part of the deal, prosecutors also agreed to drop criminal charges against the director's wife and business partner, Jody Savin.
But there was an unforeseen legal glitch in part of the plea deal allowing Miller to serve his time at the Wayne County jail rather than in a state prison, said District Attorney Jackie Johnson. She said attorneys later discovered Georgia case law that says defendants must go to prison to serve sentences of more than one year.
Johnson said the decision to release Miller early was in keeping with her understanding of the original plea deal — that Miller could earn early release for good behavior after serving a year.
"The goal of the judge, as well as us, was to protect the intent of the original sentence," Johnson said. "Nothing really changed."
She also noted Miller's punishment isn't over. He'll spend the next nine years on probation, and during that time he is legally prohibited from directing any films.