Sarah Jones' Parents React to 'Midnight Rider' Director's Early Jail Release (Q&A)
"We’ve never wanted revenge of any kind, we’re not like that. We just wanted accountability, and that’s still the case," says Richard Jones.
Early Wednesday morning, a Georgia court ruled that Midnight Rider director Randall Miller, sentenced last March to two years in a county jail for his role in the death of 27-year-old camera operator Sarah Jones, could go free — a year earlier than expected.
The decision swept through the vast network of Jones’ friends, family and supporters, who reacted with sadness and alarm at the verdict. Jones’ parents, Richard and Elizabeth, shared their thoughts on the decision with The Hollywood Reporter.
What’s your reaction to the judge’s ruling in court this morning freeing Randall Miller a year earlier than anticipated?
Richard Jones: We are a little disappointed in the way that came out. It apparently was due to some technicality or something that wasn’t legal about the sentence and so that was overturned, as I understand it. There’s case law in Georgia that they could not incarcerate or put someone in county jail for more than one year and the plea deal called for two. So basically they let him out after the one year. But the additional nine years of probation in which he can’t be a director or first assistant director or have any responsibility for safety still stands.
When and how did you find out?
Richard: We were asked to meet with the DA Monday afternoon. We met yesterday afternoon and were informed that the plea deal really wasn’t legal, so there really wasn’t anything we could do about it. I did make a statement in court stating our disappointment. We had understood that he would serve two years' incarceration. If we had understood that he could be in out in one year, we would not have agreed to the deal in the first place.
What happened? Was it simply a legal oversight? Or do you think something else happened?
Richard: We were told that they missed it, they messed up. Of course, Mr. Miller’s attorneys also missed it in that case. I don’t know more than that. I’d be speculating if I said there were something more than that.
What did you think of the original sentence he received, back in March 2015, of two years in a county jail?
Richard: We did think it was rather lenient, considering the circumstances. At the time, honestly, if it had gone to trial, it appeared that it could be the case that Mr. Miller and his wife could go to prison. Being sympathetic, we didn’t want the children to be without a parent at home. As far as not going to the penitentiary system, they also asked if we had a problem with him serving time in jail, they thought that would be safer. We were being sympathetic. We’ve never wanted revenge of any kind, we’re not like that. We just wanted accountability, and that’s still the case.
Do you plan to pursue other avenues to get that accountability, given the ruling this morning?
Richard: I don’t know right now. The bigger purpose with the [Sarah Jones Film Foundation] that we created is to make safer film sets, and an element of that is holding people accountable, so we want to keep it a positive purpose. It’s not about chasing Mr. Miller around. We’re not trying to make his life miserable. I understand it’s been hard on him, naturally. We’ll have to think about what’s occurred today but to stay focused on that for a second.
Elizabeth, I understand you had some kind of interaction with [Randall Miller’s wife] Jody Savin this morning?
Elizabeth: She was sitting behind us. I put my hand out to her to shake hands. She shook my hand. Then she started talking about ‘how we could do this.’ She was, very surprisingly, she was upset. She was saying how could we have done this to her family and that he was innocent. And she said we didn’t know all the facts. She said something to the fact that we had incarcerated the wrong man.
Was she hinting that someone else was responsible?
Richard: Yeah, that’s what she was hinting at. There are others serving probation, but which one of them was more responsible for what they did, that is difficult to say. Based on the evidence and research that the District Attorney had done, they ultimately felt that [Miller] was in charge of everyone, therefore responsible. Last thing we wanted to do was get into a shouting match at a trial.
Richard: I spoke to her as well, I said I hoped we could all heal. And she didn’t like that.
What did she say?
Richard: Repeating the same things: You ruined our family.
Tell me about the work the Sarah Jones Film Foundation has been doing.
Richard: It kind of starts with the "Never forget, never again." Meaning: Never forget what happened to Sarah Jones when safety was ignored, and do what we can to keep it from happening again. Sarah Jones is gone from this world, we can’t get her back. We talk about Sarah, but really it’s not about her as much as about the living. What can we do to improve the industry to keep this from happening? Mostly it's awareness. It’s been two years and this hasn’t been just a news flash in the pan. It’s actually building momentum. We spent two and a half weeks in L.A. recently visiting with executives and unions and it has picked up a lot of momentum. A lot of other people are doing a lot as well. Joyce Gilliard on a [a recent SAG-sponsored] safety panel is a wonderful thing. So much is happening to make sets safer. We also do not want to forget about others that were present that day who were physically and emotionally damaged. I cannot imagine. In our view, our Sarah was gone from her body almost instantly, but these people had to see that body that was run over by a train. In talking to people that day it was a horrifying thing they will no doubt live with the rest of their lives.
Who did you meet with on your recent trip to Los Angeles?
Richard: We had a good visit with John Bailey, the cinematographer. We visited the Modern Family set and had a moment of silence. We visited Criminal Minds. And there’s a new show: The Grinder with Rob Lowe and Fred Savage. We also visited a movie set that we aren’t supposed to mention yet. We got to chat with Clint Eastwood. All these people know all about Sarah Jones and what happened to her. We’ve met with some executives and unions. They’re all listening — it’s making a difference.