Claud “Tex” McIver returns to court Wednesday to get a sentence of life in prison for the murder of his wife Diane.
The punishment, to be handed down by Chief Judge Robert McBurney, doesn’t sit well with some jurors who convicted McIver. One of them, a commercial real estate professional from Roswell who asked his name not be disclosed, told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution he didn’t realize the panel’s compromise verdict meant the 75-year-old McIver would almost certainly spend the rest of his life behind bars.
“I didn’t feel great about that,” said the juror, upon learning McIver’s fate. “Not at all.”
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Several jurors who spoke to The AJC described how over 27 hours of painstaking deliberations they moved from a deadlock to a verdict that left many trial watchers surprised. The Roswell juror said he was a member of a majority — a shifting seven- to eight-member bloc during deliberations — who believed McIver was guilty of involuntary manslaughter, that his recklessness caused her death. That offense carries a maximum term of 10 years. A small minority pushed for malice murder, the most serious charge. They met in the middle on felony murder.
McIver contended he accidentally shot his wife in the back as they drove down Piedmont Avenue in September 2016, returning to their Buckhead condo after spending the weekend at their ranch in Putnam County. After exiting the Downtown Connector because of awful traffic, McIver asked his wife to hand him his .38 revolver because he didn’t like the area.
When he felt safe again, McIver said, he put the handgun in his lap and began falling in and out of sleep. He said he became startled when the car came to a stop, causing him to inadvertently pull the trigger. Diane McIver, 64, died hours later at Emory University Hospital.
None of the 12 jurors believed McIver should be acquitted, the Roswell juror said.
“He pulled the trigger,” the juror said. “He couldn’t get away from the fact he was responsible for killing his wife.”
In a prior interview, juror Aubrey Gray, a finance and accounting manager, agreed.
“His hand was on the trigger,” he said. “Guns just don’t go off, which is how we reached our verdict.”
During interviews, jurors spoke of the ordeal of getting pulled away from their jobs and families for a trial that spanned about seven weeks. They bonded over food, bringing in snacks, drinks and produce and piling them on the jury room table. Some put on a few pounds.
“It’s almost like your life is taken away from you,” said a female juror, who asked not to be identified. “But you make new friends, meet different people.”
As for the deliberations, “They were tough, tough, tough,” she said.
The jury found McIver not guilty of malice murder but guilty of felony murder. Felony murder means someone is killed during the commission of a felony. In this case, it was aggravated assault, in which a deadly weapon was used to cause serious injury.
Juror Lakeisha Boyd said she scolded prosecutors after the trial for not presenting enough evidence to convince her that McIver was guilty of malice murder. “That’s what they wanted, but we couldn’t give them what they wanted because they did not give it to us,” she said.
It seemed impossible that the jury would unanimously agree to an involuntary manslaughter conviction because three jurors insisted it was murder, the Roswell juror said.
“They were intractable,” he said.
After closing arguments, McBurney instructed the jurors not to concern themselves with possible punishment during their deliberations.
“That’s been the rule forever,” said Decatur defense attorney Bob Rubin, who was not involved in the case. “But in reality, juries often engage in negotiations and reach a compromise verdict based on what they think is fair, what they think should be the proper punishment or the fact they want to be done with it all and just get out of there.”
The jury of seven women and five men arrived at their verdict after deliberations that spanned five days. But it almost didn’t happen.
On the final day, jurors told McBurney they were deadlocked. But the judge gave the jury what’s called “a dynamite charge” — an instruction for them to return to the jury room and try once again to reach a consensus.
After that, the Roswell juror said he realized they had so much invested in the case, a compromise was necessary. And he wondered: What if they hung up and caused a mistrial? The prosecution was so expensive, would the state retry McIver again? And, if so, would another jury let him walk?
“We were the ones who could control what we had heard and what we had processed,” he said. “We could decide the case once and for all. We owed it to ourselves to do that.”
Four hours later, the jury compromised on aggravated assault and felony murder. “Even though the right answer was really involuntary manslaughter,” the Roswell juror said.
Fellow juror Gray, who flip-flopped during deliberations between malice murder and involuntary manslaughter, said he liked the resolution.
“Luckily for us the judge sent us back, told us to rethink what we were doing and we got to a point where all of the jurors were able to compromise, specifically look at the evidence and take away any emotion that we had and that’s how we came up with our guilty verdict,” he said.
The Roswell juror said McIver’s defense team did a good job rebutting the state’s case, such as its argument that McIver stood to gain a lot financially by killing his wealthy wife.
“She was the golden goose,” the juror said of Diane. “She was the CEO of a major company. He was way better off with her alive than dead.”
He also condemned the prosecution’s repeated insinuations that McIver may have been having a sexual relationship with Tex and Diane’s masseuse, Annie Anderson, after Diane’s death. “That sickened me,” he said.
He also didn’t think all the bizarre and thoughtless things Tex McIver did and didn’t do after his wife’s death proved he was a murderer. This included not crying at the hospital and waiting for weeks to pick up Diane’s ashes.
“Everything he said and did after the fact was so dumb it almost proves it wasn’t premeditated,” he said. “If he had planned this, he should have been bawling his eyes out in the hospital.”
The juror said his stint on the McIver jury is something he’ll never forget.
“It was an amazing experience, and there were some moments that were pretty intense,” he said. “It was probably one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done in my life.”