When Atlanta attorney Claud “Tex” McIver shot his wife, Diane, to death in 2016, she was worth $12 million.
But McIver—who in 2014 had lost his equity partnership at Atlanta’s Fisher & Phillips at a cost of more than half his income—was so financially-strapped that he mortgaged his beloved ranch near Lake Oconee to his wife and, without her money, “wouldn’t even have one dollar,” Fulton County Chief Senior Assistant District Attorney Seleta Griffin told jurors as prosecutors opened their murder case against McIver.
“The day the defendant shot his wife in the back,” Griffin said, “his life was spinning out of control. But her death resulted in an immediate $1.2 million infusion to Tex McIver’s bank account, she said.
“The easiest way for him to gain control was for him to kill Diane,” the prosecutor contended. “On Sunday Sept. 25, 2016—the evidence will show—that’s just what he did.”
Griffin also contended that, although McIver has always insisted his wife’s shooting in their SUV as they were driven home by a family friend was an accident, the lawyer had a firing range at the ranch, was a practiced shot and lectured others about gun safety.
The prosecutor also said that, with three cellphones within his reach, McIver failed to call 911 after the shooting and, instead of directing driver Dani Jo Carter to nearby Piedmont Hospital, insisted on taking his wife to Emory University Hospital an estimated 15-minute drive away.
As his wife was dying, Griffin said, McIver offered medical personnel multiple versions of what had happened. He had also begun what Griffin said was the first of many efforts to influence witnesses to tailor their statements to his own shifting narrative of the shooting.
Those efforts, she said, eventually included McIver’s suggestion to Jeff Dickerson, a public relations spokesman he had hired who was personal friends with Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, could get the case against McIver dropped, it would result in a performance bonus that Dickerson could share with the DA, Griffin said.
But Amanda Clark Palmer, a member of McIver’s defense team, which also includes veteran defense lawyers Bruce Harvey and Don Samuel, countered in opening statements Tuesday that, while Diane McIver earned more than her husband, “He loved her, truly loved her, deeply loved her… and that’s why he didn’t intentionally shoot her.”
Instead, the shooting occurred, in part, because Tex McIver suffers from a sleep disorder known as REM behavior disorder, where body may act out during dreams that “may even be violent,” or include “full body jerks,” Palmer said. McIver, she said, also may have demonstrated a form of “sleep drunkenness” also known as “confusional arousal,” that left him disoriented during and after the shooting and unable to remember exactly what had happened.
But Griffin insisted that Diane McIver’s death was no accident. Instead, she said, it was driven by her husband’s desire to maintain “an image of wealth and power” in a marriage where his wife earned more than he did, and he increasingly struggled to maintain the couple’s well-heeled lifestyle in the face of a dramatically diminishing income.
In pretrial testimony on Monday, Diane McIver’s longtime assistant, Terry Brown, testified that Diane McIver had told him that she “ran her marriage like a business. What was hers was hers. What was his [Tex McIver’s] was his. And the two would never meet.”
Griffin said that Tex McIver’s financial slide began in 2014 when he lost his equity partnership at Fisher Phillips and became instead an income partner—a move that cut his income by 54 percent. While he had a pension, the 75-year-old McIver, based on his spending habits, would have have depleted it within two years of his retirement, she said.
While Diane McIver was financially responsible for expenses for the Buckhead condominium she owned and where the couple lived, Tex McIver paid expenses for their Putnam County, Georgia ranch—about $20,000 a month, Griffin said. When the couple had married, Tex McIver had made his wife part owner of the ranch. By 2016, she said, Diane McIver had given her husband $198,000 and loaned him another $350,000 that he had secured with his share of the ranch.
Although Tex McIver paid interest on that loan, he had been forced to renew it once and, when he shot his wife, had never made any payments on the principal, Griffin said.
By then, the McIvers had become godparents to Austin Schwall, the son of Fulton County Superior Court Judge Craig Schwall, Griffin said. At one point, Diane McIver told Austin’s mother that she intended to bequeath the ranch to Austin in her will, the prosecutor said. And Diane McIver had learned, she said, that she couldn’t leave the ranch to Austin unless she foreclosed on her husband’s still unpaid loan.
The ranch, Griffin explained, was Tex McIver’s “pride and joy, where he could go every weekend, host parties, go shooting. Diane could take it from him.”
McIver shot his wife as the couple returned home from a weekend at the ranch. Dani Jo Carter, Diane McIver’s longtime friend and the driver of the McIvers’ SUV, was stopped at a light across from Atlanta’s Piedmont Park, when the gun that Tex McIver had earlier asked his wife to hand him suddenly fired.
Griffin suggested that McIver planned the shooting. He had placed the gun in a plastic grocery bag that prosecutors’ ballistic experts will testify would prevent gunshot residue from getting on his hands and clothes, she said. He had tried unsuccessfully to persuade friends at the ranch to take Carter home so she wouldn’t accompany the couple back to Atlanta. And the bullet trajectory, Griffin said, demonstrated that the gun—which she said was “in perfect working condition”—wasn’t lying in Tex McIver’s lap in the back seat as he has claimed but was “aimed right at” Diane McIver’s back.
Griffin said that, within a week of Diane McIver’s death, her husband had inventoried all of here belongings, which he soon sold at auction, telling reporters covering the shooting investigation that he needed to satisfy bequests in his wife’s will. Although he raised over $187,000, Tex McIver never made good on the bequests, Griffin said. Moreover, he left his wife’s cremated ashes at the crematory for nearly a month, insisting that he wanted her estate to pay the cremation fees. A friend of Diane McIver’s finally paid the fee and took possession of her ashes, Griffin said.
Defense attorney Palmer acknowledged in her opening statement that Diane McIver, as president of Corey Airport Services and parent company US Enterprises, earned more than her husband. Tex McIver “was relying on her income every month. She was contributing to expenses at the ranch,” she said. “The evidence will show it is inconsistent for Tex to want to cut off that flow of income.”
Besides, Palmer said, “Don’t forget these two individuals were in a marriage. It was not like Diane was going to say, ‘You haven’t paid off the loan. I’m going to take the ranch.’”
Palmer also contended that a statement by McIver PR man Jeff Dickerson to the district attorney about McIver’s offer of a performance bonus if the charges against him were dropped “was not a serious comment.”
“It was a stupid comment,” she said, “because it could be easily misinterpreted. Tex did not mean for Jeff Dickerson to run off and bribe Paul Howard. …Tex was not attempting to bribe the DA. He was not trying to commit a crime.”