- Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016
- SAVANNAH, Ga. (AP)
A Georgia judge won't grant early release from jail for a movie director sentenced in the death of a camera assistant struck by a freight train while shooting a film about singer Gregg Allman.
Former "Midnight Rider" director Randall Miller had asked to be freed after serving less than half of a two-year sentence at the Wayne County jail, where was locked up after pleading guilty last March to charges of involuntary manslaughter and trespassing in the death of 27-year-old Sarah Jones.
Superior Court Judge Anthony Harrison said he was "unequivocally" rejecting Miller's request, noting that he had been reluctant to accept the plea deal that spared the director from a possible 11-year prison sentence if a trial jury had convicted him.
"When this court accepted the parties' negotiated plea agreement, one of its primary considerations was the victim's family's wishes," Harrison wrote in a ruling filed Tuesday.
Jones was killed Feb. 20, 2014, on the first day of filming for "Midnight Rider" when a train plowed into Miller's crew on a railroad bridge over the Altamaha River, about 60 miles southwest of Savannah. Evidence showed the film crew climbed onto the bridge after being denied permission by the railroad.
While Miller's attorneys argued that the 53-year-old director should be freed early because of good behavior and health concerns, Jones' parents had opposed any leniency. Her father, Richard Jones, had said releasing Miller would send a message "that Hollywood gets a break."
Miller wasn't the only defendant who got a break thanks to his plea bargain. Prosecutors also agreed to drop charges against his wife and business partner, Jody Savin.
Miller's attorneys, Ed Garland and Don Samuel, did not immediately return phone and email messages seeking comment Thursday.
They wrote in legal filings 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 after the judge denied his request.
Carter said Thursday he's not sure that's correct. While Georgia law gives sheriffs leeway to shorten the sentences of inmates jailed for misdemeanors or for probation violations, he said, Miller is serving time for a felony. The sheriff said he's consulting attorneys.
Two deputies serving under Carter — his jail administrator and a now-retired detective — both wrote letters to the judge supporting early release for Miller. Carter said that while he's had no problems with the director, even if he's legally authorized to give him a break for good behavior, "I'm not required to."
"Anything I do, I want to make sure I'm within the law," the sheriff said.