Midnight Rider Director Randall Miller Spared Jail Over Parole Violations – Deadline

Midnight Rider director Randall Miller told a Georgia court today he never knowingly violated the conditions of his probation for the 2014 death of Sarah Jones, and that was just enough to  convince a judge not to send him back to jail.

“I was allowed to continue to work in the film business as long as I worked in a role that did not involve safety,” Miller said in video testimony today from his home in California of his understanding of the parameters of his probation and then parole. “It was important to me that I had no role in safety if I was to do any movie at all,” the Bottle Shock helmer added.

“I get that he was nervous and heard what he wanted to hear,” Judge Anthony L. Harrison declared of Miller misunderstanding the scope of his sentence in the heat of trial back in 2015 Yet, the Georgia judge found it hard to swallow that the director repeatedly was left in such confusion over repeated  interactions with the law.

Still, promising to make the conditions as clear as can be, Judge Harrison ended up giving Miller just a sharp slap on the wrist at the conclusion of the nearly five-hour hearing. “You are not to act as a director, period,” Judge Harrison reiterated, today, asking an agreeing Miller if he now understood his sentence

At a much-delayed hearing Wednesday in the southern state, the filmmaker faced having his his probation revoked, which would have seen him imprisoned again.

Having served a mere year behind bars after pleading guilty to involuntary manslaughter over the death of 27-year old camera assistant Jones on the set on Midnight Rider nearly seven years ago, Miller was released on probation in mid-2016. One of the conditions of his release by Peach State Judge Harrison was that Miller is “prohibited from serving as director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production.”

The definition of what seems to be a fairly straightforward criteria was the contested heart of this latest turn in the fallout from that fatal day on the Midnight Rider set.

In 2019, Miller did helm the DGA signatory film Higher Grounds in Serbia, Colombia and the UK. The coffee themed Kate Nash starrer is penciled in to be released later this year. Upon being informed of Miller’s Higher Grounds gig, law enforcement authorities in Georgia in May last year requested that Department of Community Supervision issue an arrest warrant for Miller for probation violations.

Under direct questioning from Judge Harrison on the “broad statement” put forth in 2015, Miller today parsed his probation order. The filmmaker said he personally laid emphasis on the closing modifier in what he termed, to the judge’s obvious displeasure, a “run-on sentence.”

“I’m really sorry I misunderstood it,” an increasingly upset Miller beseeched to the judge.

Citing his own ignorance, Miller also said that his legal team had confirmed his interpretation of the probation order at the time and since. “Who is going to hire me, I’m a guy with this huge press against me,” Miller went on to say as further justification for his now contested actions.

Wearing a suit and tie, Miller remotely told the court that he tried unsuccessfully to get a number of jobs, including teaching and producing. Oddly or tellingly, Miller referred to the “inordinate amount of press” the case over the death of Jones received. The occasionally irritable Miller also told the court that it took him years to get a directing job because they are in general “hard to come by.”

Virtually led by the nose to address the absent family of Sarah Jones afterwards, a suddenly tearful Miller said: I am so sorry to you and I think about it every day. All I want to do is bring good things to the world, make good movies.”

In that vein, during his time under questioning today in the sometimes technically challenged hearing, Miller’s lawyers made damn sure that the disgraced filmmaker told the court he was given permission by the Directors’ Guild of America to make Higher Grounds.

“This had to be 100% a union movie …so there could be no question about how safe it was, and that was important to me,” he stated. “They knew exactly what the plan was,” Miller continued, “they wanted to make sure because it was going to get scrutiny from everyone.” The DGA suspended Miller for one year after he was sentenced in

Miller “never enquired to Georgia what he was prohibited from doing,” said newly minted Wayne County DA Keith Higgins today at the hybrid hearing before Judge Harrison. “He did what he wanted to do and now comes before the court asking for forgiveness.”

“He did not act in willful disobedience of his probation,” insisted defense attorney Donald Samuel, stressing that Miller’s understanding was that he could direct if he was not overseeing safety on a production. “His own lawyers told him you can do this as long as you are not involved in safety,” Samuel said.

“He could work as long as he was not in charge of any safety on the movie,” Miller’s California-based parole officer Perry Thomas declared under oath via phone today of his own understanding of the stipulations of the director’s probation. Thomas was in charge of the Golden State-based Miller’s case from 2016 to 2018, when the matter was transferred back to Georgia.

Since news of Miller directing Higher Grounds and the arrest warrant subsequently was issued, battling lawyers, a flurry of court filings and hinderances due to Covid-19, including Miller himself coming down with the virus, have pushed back this actual hearing actually taking place.

Due to the coronavirus pandemic and travel restrictions, the hearing saw mainly maskless DA Higgins, Judge Harrison, court staff and several witness in court, while defense lawyer Samuel and Ed Garland joined via video link.

Adding a further twist to the whole matter and probably contributing to Judge Harrison’s leniency today, Miller under the supervision of the local Sheriffs’ department and then supervising judge Stephen Kelly was allowed to make a film about drug court back in 2014 In fact, it was Judge Kelly who asked Miller to make the documentary as part of Miller’s community service.

Judge Harrison said Wednesday he will issue a new order erasing any ambiguity in Miller’s filmmaking status going forward

Source: Deadline

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