Gregg Allman Biopic Director Changes Plea to Guilty
Randall Miller has pled guilty to involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass in the trial over the death of Sarah Jones, the camera assistant killed a year ago on the set of Miller's film Midnight Rider, a Gregg Allman biopic. Miller changed his plea from not guilty.
Miller's attorney is Ed Garland, who in entering the plea deal told judge Anthony Harrison, "We agree at this time the state could establish the essential elements of the crime."
Miller has agreed as part of the plea that he will serve two years. Also as part of the plea deal, the case against Miller's wife, Jody Savin, has been dismissed, stated Jackie Johnson, district attorney for the Brunswick judicial circuit.
"There's nothing the court could do, Ms. Johnson or the DA's office could do to really bring you justice in this case. This was clearly a tragic accident that caused the death of your daughter and sister and granddaughter," Harrison stated.
Jones lost her life last February during a movie shoot for the Gregg Allman biopic Midnight Rider. The camera assistant, 27, died when she was struck by a train while filming a dream sequence on a bridge over the Altamaha River, about five miles from Jesup.
Savin was defended by Don Samuel and Miller by Ed Garland, both of the Atlanta firm Garland Samuel & Loeb. They're working with longtime criminal defender John Ossick, who is based in Kingsland on the Georgia-Florida border and will defend Sedrish.
Samuel and Garland are seasoned defense attorneys. Their high-profile clients have included T.I. when he served a prison and community-service sentence for federal weapons charges and the Baltimore Ravens' Ray Lewis when he was charged with a double murder in Atlanta in 2000. The Super Bowl champion pled guilty to obstruction of justice in a deal with prosecutors.
Jackie Johnson, district attorney for the Brunswick judicial circuit -- whose office in Jesup is across the street from the brick courthouse -- argued on behalf of the state. This won't be the first case she's fought with Garland and Samuel, but coincidentally, Samuel also got Johnson's father acquitted when he was charged with a crime 27 years ago.
"She's a very good lawyer. She's very competent, a lot of integrity," Samuel tells THR of Johnson. "We just see this case differently, that's for sure."
The Midnight Rider filmmakers are accused of putting Jones and their crew in harm's way on the bridge by filming on an active railway without proper permits and not following safety precautions. At around 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 20, 2014, a train barreled across the bridge, injuring several crew members as they scrambled off the trestle, some seriously, and killing Jones.
In their first statement following Jones' death, Miller and Savin called the train incident a "horrific accident."
"In the weeks and months that follow, when the true facts of the events are revealed, people will know that this was not a crime. We never had criminal intent; we would never knowingly or intentionally put anybody's safety at risk," read the statement. "Our hearts are broken, our spirits are broken. We have young children and can only imagine with immense sadness the heartbreak of losing a child. We are praying for Sarah's family."
In Jesup, members of the jury pool likely will have little familiarity with Hollywood movie shoots or the importance of the case to the entertainment industry. An informal survey of patrons at a local restaurant on Sunday found that no one was familiar with the Midnight Rider accident nor did they know that the trial of the filmmakers was starting.
In addition to the criminal case, numerous civil suits were filed against the filmmakers; their production company, Unclaimed Freight; the film's distributor, Open Road; the railroad company, CSX Transportation; and Allman himself. In the wrongful death suit filed by Jones' parents, Richard and Elizabeth Jones, CSX filed documents in which the company claimed to have twice denied the Midnight Rider crew permission to film on the tracks where Jones was killed. The cases have settled against most defendants, including Miller, Savin and Sedrish, but continue against others.
Hilary Schwartz, the first assistant director on Midnight Rider, was added to the criminal case after Miller, Savin and Sedrish were indicted in July. Then in February, her case was separated. That means she could be called to testify in this week's trial.
Jones' death reverberated throughout Hollywood and has become a rallying cry for on-set safety initiatives throughout the industry. Her parents told THR when they filed their civil suit in May that they didn't want their daughter's death to be in vain.
"We don't want this to happen again. That's kind of the bottom line," said Jones' father. "What needs to happen to make sure that's the case?"