ATLANTA – No one disputes that a well-connected and influential Atlanta attorney fatally shot his wife. The question jurors must consider over the coming weeks is whether he did it on purpose.
Claud "Tex" McIver, 75, faces charges including murder in the September 2016 death of his wife, 64-year-old Diane McIver. Lawyers for both sides delivered their opening statements Tuesday in a trial that is expected to last through the end of the month.
Prosecutor Seleta Griffin said the McIvers appeared to live a storybook life, but there were problems beneath the surface and Tex McIver intentionally killed his wife. Defense attorney Amanda Clark Palmer countered that the seemingly perfect relationship was genuine and the shooting was an accident.
The couple was wealthy and politically connected. He was a partner at a prominent labor and employment law firm and vice chair of the state election board. She was president of U.S. Enterprises Inc., the parent company of Corey Airport Services, where she had worked for 43 years.
Both were wealthy when they wed, a second marriage for them both, and they kept separate finances. They lived in a lavish condo in Atlanta's Buckhead neighborhood and spent time at their ranch in rural Putnam County, about 75 miles (120 kilometers) east of Atlanta.
As they returned home from the ranch on the evening of Sept. 25, 2016, Dani Jo Carter, a close friend of Diane McIver, was driving the couple's Ford Expedition, Diane McIver was in the front passenger seat and Tex McIver was in the back seat.
Hitting heavy traffic in Atlanta, Carter exited the interstate downtown. Concerned about the area where they exited, Tex McIver asked his wife to hand him a gun that was in the console. A short while later, McIver shot his wife in the back as they drove near Piedmont Park. Carter drove to Emory University Hospital, where Diane McIver died.
Bill Crane, a McIver family friend, told news outlets several days after the shooting that when the SUV was approached by people at an intersection, the McIvers were nervous about unrest surrounding Black Lives Matter protests and feared a carjacking.
A few days later, McIver's attorney at the time, Stephen Maples, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution there had been no concern about unrest or protesters, but rather about people who were in the street in an area frequented by homeless people.
Police charged McIver in December 2016 with a felony charge of involuntary manslaughter and a misdemeanor charge of reckless conduct. A Fulton County grand jury indicted him in April 2017 on charges including malice murder and influencing witnesses.
Prosecutors say McIver tried to persuade Carter the night of the shooting to tell police she wasn't in the SUV when the shot was fired and later told her husband to tell her to stop talking to police. Prosecutors say McIver also asked Crane to retract a statement he'd made to news media on McIver's behalf and tried to get a public relations professional, Jeff Dickerson, to bribe the district attorney to drop the case.
The case is about "maintaining an image of wealth and power that the defendant created for himself," Griffin said.
At the time of the shooting, McIver was no longer a partner and his income had dropped by more than half, but he wanted to continue his fancy lifestyle even as things were "spinning out of control," Griffin said.
Diane McIver made far more money than her husband and had given him a $350,000 loan that was secured by the ranch. She had made it clear she wanted to leave the ranch to their godson, something she could do if she foreclosed on the loan and took control of the ranch, Griffin said. Diane McIver also controlled their Buckhead home, the prosecutor said.
"The easiest way for him to gain control was to kill Diane," Griffin said.
Clark Palmer told jurors the main thing to know is that Tex and Diane McIver were very much in love.
"He loved her. He truly loved her, deeply loved her," Clark Palmer said. "They had a relationship that people were envious of."
It's true that Tex was making less than he had previously, but that was planned as he was preparing to retire and he wasn't in dire financial straits, Clark Palmer said. But he relied on Diane's income, Clark Palmer said, and it would be inconsistent for him to have wanted to cut off that flow of money.
Tex McIver had dozed off in the back seat of the SUV before the shooting and fired the gun in his lap accidentally, Clark Palmer said, explaining that McIver has a documented disorder that can cause him to jerk in his sleep.