Prosecutors in the upcoming criminal trial of four “Midnight Rider” crew members deny that first assistant director Hillary Schwartz was granted immunity when she was interviewed by investigators, just months before a grand jury indicted her for her role in the Feb. 20 train accident on the set of the movie.
In a filing in Wayne County, Ga., District Attorney Jackie Johnson said that Schwartz, in a July 29 interview with investigators via Skype, “made statements and representations to the State that were found to be inconsistent with that of other witnesses and other evidence collected by law enforcement officers during the course of the investigation.”
On Sept. 10 she was indicted by a grand jury on charges of involuntary manslaughter and criminal trespass. That was two months after director Randall Miller, producer Jody Savin and executive producer Jay Sedrish were each indicted on the same charges. They have each pleaded not guilty. Camera assistant Sarah Jones was killed and eight other injured during the production on CSX train tracks near Jesup, Ga., when a train unexpectedly came as the crew of the movie was shooting. CSX Transportation, the owner of the tracks, said that the production was denied permission to shoot there.
Earlier this month, Schwartz asked the court to dismiss her indictment, claiming prosecutorial misconduct. Through her attorney, she contended that there was an immunity agreement in place before she was interviewed and that assurances were given that what she said was for “her testimony in the trial of other persons and not usable against her.”
But Johnson denied that any such agreement was in place, other than one to not use anything she said in her interview against her.
“In fact, this record suggests that Schwartz’s decision to cooperate simply reflected her hope for favorable treatment by the prosecutor,” Johnson said. “Nothing in the record supports her claim that her purported cooperation was obtained in a manner that was ‘fundamentally unfair.'”
Johnson also denied that the special district attorney in the case, John B. Johnson, engaged in any misconduct.
“Schwartz was to be interviewed in exchange for which she would make statements and provide information that, while potentially helpful to the State’s investigation, would not be usable against her. In federal parlance, she was ‘queen for a day.’ As it turned out, her statements did not have the effect she hoped for; the State was not persuaded of her innocence and, as it had every right to do, it took the matter of her involvement in the death of Sarah Jones to the grand jury.”
In her motion to dismiss, Schwartz’s attorney, Austin Catts, wrote that “Hillary and the District Attorney’s Office had entered into a solemn, binding and enforceable immunity agreement under the terms of which she would give a statement, she would be available for interview, she would testify, and she would not be prosecuted for any crime involving the accident at the railroad trestle in February 2014.”
The pretrial motions in the case are scheduled to be heard on Feb. 12 and 13.
Schwartz is also seeking to have her case severed from that of the three other defendants. Prosecutors are objecting to that motion as well.