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The Georgia Supreme Court has thrown out the murder conviction of a prominent attorney accused of fatally shooting his wealthy wife to death while they were riding in an SUV.
Claud “Tex” McIver was convicted in 2018 of felony murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony for killing his wife, but in a ruling handed down Thursday the state’s highest court ruled that jurors in the trial should have been given the option to consider the lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
“We conclude that the trial court erred in refusing McIver’s request to charge on the lesser grade of involuntary manslaughter, because the charge was authorized by law and some evidence supported the giving of the charge,” Justice Michael Boggs wrote in the unanimous decision.
Boggs went on to note that some of the state’s evidence used to convict McIver “was not overwhelming or even strong.”
Diane McIver was killed on September 25, 2016 as she was driving home from a weekend at the couple’s Putnam County ranch with her husband and her close friend, Dani Jo Carter.
Carter had been driving the SUV while Diane sat in the passenger seat and Tex sat in the backseat, directly behind his wife, according to the court documents.
When they got to the Downtown Connector in Atlanta, traffic was heavy and Carter said they needed to get off the interstate. Tex had seemingly drifted off to sleep, so the two women decided to get off at the Edgewood Avenue exit.
After they got onto the roadway, Tex told the women he wished that they hadn’t gotten off the interstate and asked that they hand him his gun, a .38-caliber revolver, from the center console.
“Girls, I wish you hadn’t done this. This is a really bad area,” he told them at the time, according to the court records.
Diane passed him the weapon, which was in a plastic grocery bag, and Tex placed it on his lap.
They continued to drive until Carter testified that she heard several clicks and asked Diane what she was doing. She replied that she was locking the doors and at the same moment a loud “boom” reverberated throughout the car.
Tex claimed at the time that the gun had accidentally “discharged.”
Diane was struck in the back by a bullet that went through the passenger seat. The trio drove to Emory University Hospital, where Diane later died during surgery.
During the trial, prosecutors had argued that Tex killed Diane, an executive at U.S. Enterprises, because he was struggling financially and wanted to gain access to her money. They presented evidence from an expert witness who concluded that based on the trajectory of the bullet, Tex had likely been holding the pistol in a raised position, according to the court documents.
Yet, the defense argued that the gun had gone off after Tex had been startled awake and provided testimony from another expert witness who argued that the gun had been fired while lying on its side.
A witness also testified during the trial that Tex suffered from a sleep disorder that could cause him to make involuntary movements if he was startled awake.
In the court’s decision Thursday, Boggs wrote that the evidence suggesting Tex had killed his wife intentionally or connecting him to the financial motive was “thin.”
“Indeed, the State’s evidence of intent was weak, as no witness testified to any disagreement or quarrel between McIver and Diane, and many witnesses testified that they were very much in love,” Boggs wrote.
He added that the state’s theory that Tex had intentionally shot his wife in a moving car in front of her best friend through a car seat, which could have stopped the bullet, is “supported only by some circumstantial evidence and conjecture” and said to the contrary, the circumstances suggest “a lack of any preparation or planning.”
“From this evidence, the jury could have concluded that the revolver was not deliberately or intentionally fired, but rather, as McIver suggests, discharged as a result of his being startled awake, reflexively or involuntarily clutching at the bag holding the firearm, and inadvertently contacting the trigger,” Boggs wrote.
Jurors in the trial acquitted Tex of malice murder but found him guilty of felony murder, a charge reserved for those who kill during the commission of another felony. The jury was not given the opportunity to consider a charge of involuntary manslaughter.
He was sentenced to life in prison.
In its ruling this week, the court overturned the felony murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony charges, but upheld his conviction for influencing a witness, which carried a five-year sentence.
His attorneys, Don Samuel and Amanda Clark Palmer, said he has already served four years and ten months behind bars, according to The Associated Press.
Based on the court’s ruling, Tex will now be eligible for a new trial.
In a statement to the news outlet, his attorneys said they were “delighted” by the court’s decision.
“He was deprived of a fair trial because the jury was not given the opportunity to find that the shooting was entirely the result of negligence, as opposed to an intentional killing,” they said. “He was entitled to a fair trial and did not get a fair trial. We look forward to showing the next jury that he is not guilty of murder.”
Oxygen.com reached out to Clark Palmer but did not receive an immediate response.
Jeff DiSantis, a spokesperson for the Fulton County District Attorney’s office, said they will “evaluate the case and make a decision on how to proceed in the near future.”
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