Randall Miller Did Not Violate Probation By Directing a Film, Judge Rules

A judge on Wednesday ruled that Randall Miller did not violate his probation when he shot a film in 2019, but warned the director not to make any more films for the remainder of his sentence.

Judge Anthony Harrison sentenced Miller in 2015 to a year in jail in connection with the February 2014 death of camera assistant Sarah Jones on the set of the film “Midnight Rider” near Jesup, Ga. He also sentenced Miller to 10 years of probation, during which Miller was barred from acting as a “director, first assistant director or supervisor with responsibility for safety in any film production.”

Miller directed a new film, “Higher Grounds,” in Serbia, London and Colombia in the summer of 2019. When local prosecutors were informed of the project last spring, they went to court seeking to revoke Miller’s probation.

At a hearing on Wednesday, District Attorney Keith Higgins urged Harrison to revoke Miller’s probation. Higgins argued that Miller displayed “inexcusable carelessness” in shooting the film without checking first with Georgia authorities.

“Instead of asking for permission, he did what he wanted to do, and now comes before the court asking for forgiveness,” Higgins said.

Miller and his attorneys have claimed that they believed that he was allowed to direct a film, so long as he was not responsible for safety. At the hearing, the defense called several witnesses, including Miller’s California parole officer, his sister, and his father-in-law, who each testified that was also their understanding. Miller also testified that that was how he understood the term.

“I’m really sorry that I misunderstood you,” Miller told the judge, appearing remotely via WebEx. “I apologize for my ignorance.”

Harrison made clear that he intended the sentence to mean that Miller could not work as a director under any circumstances for the duration of his probation. But he denied the prosecution’s request to revoke probation, allowing that Miller may have been confused. He made it clear, however, that Miller remains bound by the terms going forward.

“You’re not to act as a director, period,” Harrison said. “First assistant director, period, or in any other capacity in the film industry where you are responsible for safety.”

Jones was killed, and several others were seriously injured, in a train collision on a railroad trestle near Jesup, Ga. The “Midnight Rider” crew had positioned itself on the bridge to get a shot, without getting the approval of the train operator. Miller pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter.

Jones’ father, Richard Jones, attended the hearing in person on Wednesday. He said he was disappointed in the outcome.

“I feel like he really has never accepted responsibility for what happened that day,” Jones said. “I truly do not wish him ill will. I only want him to accept responsibility for the part he took in Sarah’s death, and accept the ramifications of it.”

Prompted by the prosecutor, Miller offered an apology to the Jones family.

“I am so sorry to you,” he said. “I think about it every day, and not a moment goes by that I don’t think about what happened that day and wish I could change it. All I want to do is bring good things into the world, and make good movies that have something important to say.”

“Higher Grounds” has yet to be released. It was funded by a large trust that seeks to promote veganism.

The hearing had been repeatedly delayed, most recently due to Miller’s diagnosis with COVID-19.

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