After highly charged closing arguments, McIver jurors get to work

4/17/18 - Atlanta - Chief Assistant District Attorney Clint Rucker, with a photo of Diane McIver behind him, makes closing arguments for the prosecution today during the Tex McIver murder trial at the Fulton County Courthouse. Bob Andres

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4/17/18 - Atlanta - Chief Assistant District Attorney Clint Rucker, with a photo of Diane McIver behind him, makes closing arguments for the prosecution today during the Tex McIver murder trial at the Fulton County Courthouse. Bob Andres

It was a clash of styles, cerebral and sarcastic on one side, earnest and bombastic on the other.

Closing arguments in the bizarre, captivating and, ultimately, tragic saga of Claud “Tex” McIver and his late wife Diane played out in front of a Fulton County courtroom packed with friends of the Buckhead power couple — though some have turned against the 75-year-old defendant, who fatally shot his spouse in the back.

After hearing from nearly 80 witnesses over a span of six weeks, the case went to the jury at long last late Tuesday afternoon. Jurors deliberated for about 90 minutes before calling it quits. They’ll resume deliberations Wednesday at 9 a.m.

Both sides gave them plenty to chew on.

“This trial is an accident in search of a motive,” said Bruce Harvey, who concluded the defense’s closing.

To believe that it was a “deliberate, planned and calculated” murder, as the state alleges, requires “astonishing improbabilities” that belie common sense, said defense co-counsel Don Samuel.

INDICTMENT: The charges filed against Tex McIver

TIMELINE: Key Events in the Tex McIver case

But lead prosecutor Clint Rucker conceded nothing in an impassioned closing that, if it didn’t change any minds, at least solidified the support from those convinced McIver is guilty.

“I have been waiting a long time to talk to you all about the facts and the circumstances of this case,” he said. “They are clear. They are compelling. They are overwhelming. And they establish the guilt of this defendant beyond a reasonable doubt.”

What followed was a commanding performance that helped frame a sprawling case that, at times, seemed in danger of collapsing under its own weight. The defense was no less compelling, adhering to its theme that little beyond innuendo has informed the prosecution’s argument.

“It makes no sense,” Samuel said. “There’s no logic to that at all. Think of all the opportunities, frankly, not that any of them really make sense as to why: you’re out on the farm, you’re out on the ranch, you go hunting, you go walking the trails, you’re in the house, but he waits ‘til he’s in a car with her best friend?”

“Maybe. Maybe. Maybe,” Harvey said of the state’s case. “Pay no attention to the proof of accident. Rely on our red herrings to arrive at your decision.”

Refuting testimony from some of his own witnesses that the McIvers were a blissfully happy pair, Rucker suggested theirs was a “marriage of convenience.”

“They want you to believe everything is all lovey dovey,” Rucker said. “Most people don’t know what’s going on behind closed doors.”

Killing his wife solved McIver’s mounting financial problems, the prosecutor said. “He is much better off with her dead than alive.”

For Tex McIver, it was never about love — “He was just coveting her money, again and again.”

But the defense was relentless in its counterattacks.

“Why don’t they have a motive that makes any sense? A consistent theory, something that makes sense here,” Samuel said. “Their arguments about money are not not accurate. Their arguments about being picked on (by Diane) are ridiculous, trivial. Another woman? The masseuse.”

As the defense hammered away at his case, Rucker seized upon the high notes of more than two weeks of testimony.

With his boss, Fulton County District Attorney Paul Howard, watching from the gallery, Rucker walked through the last day of Diane McIver’s life. He reminded jurors of the defendant’s request of a ranch hand, who lives in Athens, to drive Dani Jo Carter home to Atlanta. Carter would be behind the wheel of the McIvers’ Ford Expedition when Tex, sitting in the rear passenger seat, fired his .38 revolver.

Maybe that was the original plan, Rucker said, “to have an accident at the ranch.” Perhaps he came up with Plan B when, during the drive home to Buckhead from their Putnam County ranch, he overheard Dani Jo and Diane discussing an incident involving their friend Ken Rickert, who accidentally discharged his gun while in his home office.

McIver made up a story about menacing Black Lives Matter protesters to justify asking for his gun, Rucker said.

“If there’s no justification for having the gun, that equals intent,” he said.

And if he was so threatened, how did he fall asleep? Then, once the danger has passed, “Why didn’t you give the gun back?” Rucker asked. “Why didn’t you put it in the seat next to you? Your darling, your lovemate, sitting just inches away from you. Why would you put her in danger like that?”

The lies and contradictions continued, Rucker said. A news junkie who lived in Atlanta for 40 years doesn’t know Grady Memorial Hospital is a level one trauma center?

“What if she got to Grady? She’d be alive today,” he said.

Ifs. Maybes. Buts. That’s all the prosecution’s got, countered the defense.

“I’m going to tell you speculation is different than circumstantial evidence,” Harvey said.

And when it came to to their client, nothing was out of bounds, the defense argued.

“We’re going to vilify Tex McIver,” Samuel said. “We’re going to muddy him up. We’re going to make this jury not like him. That’s their mission.”

And on that front, they succeeded, the veteran defense lawyer seemed to acknowledge.

“He’s a flawed person,” Samuel said. “He’s not perfect. He’s not even close to being perfect. He’s not within even 10 miles of being perfect. … Because of all those things, by golly, you should feel comfortable of finding him guilty of murder.”

Rucker — a “dynamic” lawyer “who knows juries better than anybody I’ve ever tried cases against,” according to Samuel in a 2017 interview with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution — pleaded with jurors to “stand up for Diane McIver.”

“Diane tried to stand up for herself in her last waking moments,” he said, periodically dabbing sweat off his forehead with a white handkerchief. “Doctor Suzanne Hardy asked her a question: ‘Do you want to see your husband? When I put this tube down your mouth you’re not going to be able to speak.’ Diane knew she was going. She said to her over and over again: Am I dying? Am I dying?”

“So she asked her a question … Do you want to see your husband? And she said, ‘No. No.’”

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