When I arrived at the Fulton County Courthouse about 1 p.m. one day last week, the finalists for the jury were lined up outside the first-floor courtroom.
Inside, Judge Robert McBurney had not yet called things to order. Some of the attorneys milled about. A TV camera was set up. And some folks who seemed to be interested observers sat on the room’s benches, which look like church pews.
And there, right where I knew I’d find them — near the back on the left side of the courtroom — sat Bill Rankin and Christian Boone, reporters from The Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
They’ve drawn a big assignment for us: covering the Claud “Tex” McIver murder trial.
Rankin and Boone were there to document the final selection of jurors for the trial, the culmination of a process that had taken six days.
The case has grabbed the imagination of metro Atlanta and beyond. McIver, a prominent attorney, shot and killed his wife on Sept. 25, 2016. That fact isn’t being disputed in this trial.
McIver says it was an accident — although his version of exactly what happened has been inconsistent.
What seems clear is that he was in the backseat of the couple’s SUV. A friend was driving with McIver’s wife, Diane, seated in the front passenger seat. McIver was seated behind her.
He was holding a gun. It went off, firing a bullet through the seat and killing his wife.
The prosecution says it was no accident, and wants to prove that McIver had financial motives that led to him carry out a cold-blooded plan.
McIver’s defense team, made up of some of Atlanta’s most prominent defense attorneys, says none of that is true. And his lawyers argue that if McIver intended to kill his wife, he certainly chose a complicated and odd way to do it. They are bolstering the idea that it was an accident.
But when I met Rankin and Boone last week, the drama of trial testimony hadn’t yet started. They were our readers’ eyes and ears during the arduous process of selecting a jury.
A little after I joined them, Judge McBurney asked: “Everyone’s here?”
The potential jurors filed in, as McIver, seated with his lawyers in a khaki-colored suit and orange tie, watched them.
“It’s great to be together again,” McBurney joked with jurors. The 48 people (my estimate), had been through a long process with the judge. He had questioned them about their impressions of the case and other matters. Now 16 of them (12 jurors and four alternates) will be picked and sit in judgment of McIver. They’ve been told to expect the trial to last the rest of the month.
Rankin and Boone observe all of this. Rankin makes notes and patiently answers a couple of questions from me about exactly what’s going on.
Boone is typing away on his laptop. I look over his shoulder, and I can see that he’s piecing together a story. He’ll have to transmit it the office once the jury is seated, and he’s left blanks that will be filled in to describe the demographic makeup of the jury.
Rankin, who is also gathering information for his highly successful “Breakdown” podcast, has his phone synched up to the audio recording the AJC is making of the proceedings. That way, he can note a crucial moment and find it easily amidst the hours and hours of audio of this trial.
At this time, though, the courtroom is quiet. The lawyers are passing paper back and forth. This is the time when they “strike” jurors, eliminating those that they believe will be unfavorable to their case.
McIver twirls a pen as he watches.
The judge pipes up occasionally: “How we doin’?”
The process finally concludes after about 45 minutes.
As the judge calls out the numbers of the jurors that have been chosen, Rankin, Boone and I give over to our journalist instincts. We’re counting each person: a woman, a man.
When the judge is finished, Rankin and I have a minor argument. Our numbers don’t agree. Boone has left the courtroom to file his story. He’s got it right, of course.
Rankin and I have time to move to the other side of the courtroom for a better view of the jury box and count again. By now, Boone’s story is probably live on AJC.com.
As it turns out, six women and six men have been picked. (So I was right.)
This trial will be the full-time occupation of Rankin and Boone. They are deeply experienced journalists, and Rankin has even been asked by some national TV news shows to make appearances and offer his expertise. So I asked them what they thought.
“This is a trial with no easy answers. To believe Tex McIver is guilty is to accept that he crafted a truly Machiavellian plan,” Boone said. “To believe McIver is innocent you have to overlook behavior, in the days following the shooting, generously described as bizarre.”
Rankin and Boone will sit through every moment of the trial, bringing you real-time coverage at AJC.com and depth and details in the printed edition. You can expect them to give insight and context to a complicated case.
“I love covering trials because, almost without exception, you’ll see something you’ve never seen before. There’s almost always a ‘Wow,’” said Rankin. “You have to choose the moments you highlight with extreme care.”