Focus in McIver murder trial turns to the shooting itself

Jurors heard about how much pressure it takes to fire a gun

It's the central question in the Claud "Tex" McIver murder trial — was the fatal shooting of his wife, Diane, intentional or accidental? And on the 13th day of testimony, jurors learned there's no conclusive answer.

Under questioning by defense co-counsel Bruce Harvey, prosecution witness Zachary Weitzel, a GBI firearms expert, confirmed that no test exists that can determine whether a trigger was pulled on purpose.

Zachary Weitzel, a GBI firearms examiner, demonstrates the workings of the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, model 638, used in the shooting of Diane McIver, during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Zachary Weitzel, a GBI firearms examiner, demonstrates the workings of the Smith and Wesson .38 revolver, model 638, used in the shooting of Diane McIver, during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

It's also impossible to know whether the hammer on McIver's .38 revolver was cocked that fateful night in September 2016. (Atlanta police investigators never asked the then-73-year-old attorney.)

If it was cocked, the defendant’s assertion that he accidentally fired the bullet that killed his wife is easier to accept. That setting requires only a single action and roughly 2 pounds of pressure on the trigger.

“If it’s single action, it can go off from keys in your pocket,” Harvey posited. Replied Weitzel: “Any force that exerts that kind of pressure can pull the trigger.”

If it wasn’t cocked, a double action and about 12 pounds of trigger pressure are necessary. While not impossible, it’s much less likely that such force could be generated accidentally.

That doesn’t mean the state is sunk. Prosecutors have attempted to establish reasonable doubt by stressing how McIver was a stickler for gun safety. Why, then, would he take a loaded gun with the hammer cocked, wrapped in a Publix bag, from the center console of his Ford Expedition and then place it on his lap?

Guns don't just go off, even if the SUV — driven by Diane McIver's friend Dani Jo Carter — hit a bump, Weitzel testified. That was the explanation offered by McIver's former spokesman, Bill Crane, to reporters less than a week after the shooting. McIver later changed his story to say he was asleep when the gun went off, an account verified by Carter, according to one witness.

Michael Knox, a forensics expert who specializes in crime scene reconstruction, explains how the fatal bullet moved through the SUV seat and into Diane McIver during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Michael Knox, a forensics expert who specializes in crime scene reconstruction, explains how the fatal bullet moved through the SUV seat and into Diane McIver during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

But that version of events was questioned by forensic consultant Michael Knox, who said McIver’s statement that the gun was fired from his lap was inconsistent with his findings. A computer-generated 3-D visual shows his elbow bent, with the revolver pointed at his wife’s back.

Tex McIver reacts as Michael Knox, a forensics expert who specializes in crime scene reconstruction, testifies during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Tex McIver reacts as Michael Knox, a forensics expert who specializes in crime scene reconstruction, testifies during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

McIver was visibly upset by the depiction, and under cross-examination Knox acknowledged he could not say whether his elbow was propped against the car door or on the armrest.

Lead prosecutor Clint Rucker tried to keep it simple as he wrapped up his questioning.

“Did this gun go off all by itself?” he asked. No, replied Knox.

Lead prosecutor Clint Rucker argues that the jury should be allowed to handle the key evidence in the trial during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM
Lead prosecutor Clint Rucker argues that the jury should be allowed to handle the key evidence in the trial during Day 13 of the Tex McIver murder trial at Fulton County Courthouse on Thursday, March 28, 2018. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Rucker followed up: “In order to make this gun go off, what do you have to do?”

“Pull the trigger,” stated Knox.

But could that be done unintentionally? Rucker didn’t ask.

Weitzel seemed to show it was possible, however, while demonstrating a trigger pull using a single action. At one point during his testimony, he appeared to inadvertently pull the trigger, eliciting an audible "oops" before continuing.


» RELATED: Tex McIver says shooting his wife was accident

» MORE: Atlanta attorney says gun in his lap went off, striking his wife


» Need to catch up on testimony you've missed? Go to our subscriber page myajc.com/crime/ or find links on our daily live blog on ajc.com.

WHAT'S NEXT? It's highly unlikely the prosecution rests on Friday. But, with the trial on hiatus next week, the state is going to end on a high note. Jurors could hear from McIver's former spokesman, Bill Crane, whose initial account of the shooting was far different than the current version. Or they might hear from Jeff Dickerson, another well-known public relations executive, who will testify about the alleged offer of a bribe to get the charges against McIver dismissed.