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An Atlanta attorney was sentenced to life in prison for killing his wife after a weekend getaway. Now he may soon be released

By Christina Maxouris, CNN

(CNN) — All Dani Jo Carter heard was a bang.

It was September 25, 2016, but it still felt like a warm, summer night. Stopped at a red light in the heart of downtown Atlanta, Carter gripped the steering wheel of the white Ford Expedition and looked to her right, where Diane McIver, a well-known business executive and her best friend of more than 30 years, sat in shock.

Behind Diane sat her husband, Claud Lee “Tex” McIver, an attorney with powerful political connections, with a gun in his lap.

“Tex, you shot me,” Diane muttered, slumping forward. Hours later, she was pronounced dead at an Atlanta hospital.

Her husband was charged in the killing, and his 2018 criminal trial, which spanned more than a month and featured dozens of witnesses, led to his felony murder conviction.

Jurors found McIver guilty of intentionally shooting his wife, and he was sentenced to spend the rest of his life behind bars.

But now, nearly six years since that trial, McIver, 81, may soon walk out of prison after a plea deal that could mark the end of a tragic and convoluted case of wealth, power and controversy that captured global headlines.

A second trial ends as soon as it begins

In 2022, the Georgia Supreme Court threw out the guilty verdict against McIver, ruling jurors should have been allowed to consider a lesser charge. Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis announced she would retry McIver for felony murder, setting the stage for a second trial in December 2023.

But the new trial was halted indefinitely as soon as jury selection began over evidence issues.

And last Friday, with the second trial never making it any further, McIver took a negotiated deal and pleaded guilty to the lesser charge of felony involuntary manslaughter, admitting he acted recklessly with the gun but did not intentionally shoot his wife.

“This resolution that the lawyers on both sides have reached is one that will allow the greatest number of people to move forward as best they can,” Fulton County Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney said last Friday.

McIver’s negotiated sentence – including eight years in prison – is largely offset by the roughly 6.5 years he’s already spent behind bars, his attorney Don Samuel told CNN, adding he could be released on parole any day – if the parole board approves. Once he is released, McIver will be on probation at home, with a strict curfew and ankle monitor, according to the plea agreement.

A dark night, a traffic jam and a gunshot

On that night in 2016, Carter and the McIvers were on their way back to Atlanta after a weekend at their sprawling ranch about an hour away in Putnam County, where they had horses, a guest house and a saloon-style entertainment area among other amenities. Carter and Diane chatted for most of the drive after the group stopped for dinner. In the back seat, Tex appeared to nod off.

CNN gathered details of Diane’s last night from witness testimony during McIver’s 2018 murder trial and from the June 2022 state Supreme Court ruling that reversed his conviction.

For a Sunday evening, traffic was heavy on the interstate. A string of red brake lights stretching far into the distance welcomed them to the city. At the urging of her friend, Dani Jo Carter took an early exit off the highway, to return to the McIvers’ lavish Buckhead condo through the downtown streets.

“This is a really bad area,” McIver complained from the backseat as they exited the highway, saying they were in a bad part of town. He would later tell investigators the area was dark and had a “particularly high population” of homeless people.

McIver asked his wife for his gun, and she reached into the SUV’s center console and handed back a .38 caliber revolver inside a Publix bag.

Soon, they reached a stoplight.

The conversation stopped. Carter heard Diane locking the car doors as they waited. Then, came the bang.

A massive auction, conflicting statements and questions

Prosecutors in the 2018 trial argued McIver had intentionally killed his wife for her money.

Diane was described by those who knew her as a good friend and a brilliant businesswoman. She rose from a bookkeeper to the president of a real estate business and owned, or partly owned, at least three other companies. Tex was a partner at a large law firm with offices across the US and sat on the state’s election board, which oversees voting and election procedures. When the pair got married, they kept their finances separate, prosecutor Seleta Griffin had told jurors.

Tex McIver’s life had begun “spinning out of control” before Diane’s death, Griffin said. His salary saw a steep decline as he prepared to retire and he borrowed large sums of money from Diane to try and keep up with his affluent lifestyle, including a $350,000 loan that would allow her to foreclose on the couple’s ranch if he couldn’t pay on time. Who would get that ranch after the couple died was a point of contention, prosecutors said. McIver wanted to leave it to a son from a previous marriage, while Diane wanted it to go to their godson.

In the months after Diane’s death, McIver auctioned off her expensive belongings – a quick sale prosecutors argued showed he was focused on money. McIver said he was advised by an attorney to sell his late wife’s things to fulfill her will’s responsibilities.

“He sold her hats, shoes, purses, her fur coats. Why?” lead prosecutor Clint Rucker said in 2018 closing statements, arguing obligations in her will still were not fulfilled after those sales. “He didn’t care about Diane McIver; he just wanted her money.”

The state also argued McIver’s comments and actions after his wife’s death suggested he was dishonest and lacked remorse.

An emergency room nurse told the court she heard him say he shot Diane while cleaning the gun in his bathroom. (Defense attorneys pointed out no other nurses heard McIver make that comment.) A man who had worked for Diane testified McIver told him they had been in a car accident and his wife was killed.

Another witness also testified that about a month after Diane’s death, McIver spoke about a woman he had dated and said maybe he could “get her back.”

Prosecutors also argued McIver had a financial motive by saying his net worth shot up when Diane died, and after her death, he became the executor and one of the beneficiaries of her multimillion-dollar estate.

“On September 25, 2016, Diane was making all of the money. Diane owned the two condos in Buckhead. Diane could take the ranch – this ranch, according to the witnesses, that was his pride and joy,” Griffin said in the trial. “The easiest way for him to gain control was to kill Diane.”

But the defense argued that because McIver served as the executor of his wife’s estate, he did not have control of her money, but had to fulfill bequests in her will and pay off other obligations, including funeral expenses. And, the defense said, Diane’s death cut off a regular cash flow McIver received from her.

“There is no doubt that Tex McIver depended on his wife’s money,” defense attorney Bruce Harvey said in trial. “It would have been financially detrimental to him to concoct a plan to deliberately take the life of his wife.”

Defense attorneys argued the shooting was a horrible accident and the gun was accidentally fired when McIver, who they said suffered from a sleeping disorder, was startled. And, the defense said, killing Diane on that drive just didn’t make sense – a point also made by the state’s highest court.

“If McIver intended to fatally shoot Diane, why would he do it in the presence of Carter, and why would he do it in midtown Atlanta, within a few miles of several major hospitals, instead of on a rural interstate, far from any medical aid?” the state’s supreme court ruling said.

Georgia’s Supreme Court sides with McIver, throws out verdict against him

Jurors found McIver guilty of felony murder, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony. They acquitted him of malice murder, finding while he did not intentionally kill his wife, he did purposefully shoot her.

He was also convicted on one count of influencing a witness, stemming from a comment McIver made to Dani Jo Carter on the night of Diane’s death, instructing her to tell authorities she was not in the SUV at the time of the shooting. He has already served the five-year sentence for that count and the state’s supreme court did not overturn that conviction.

McIver appealed his murder conviction, arguing there was enough evidence presented at trial for the judge to have allowed jurors the option to consider a lesser charge of misdemeanor involuntary manslaughter – which carries a much lighter sentence.

The state’s supreme court agreed with him.

“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,” the court ruled.

And, it said, the evidence prosecutors presented that the shooting was intentional was “not overwhelming or even strong,” and that witnesses said the couple was “very much in love” and no one testified about any quarrels between them.

The court also ruled that evidence of a new will Diane had allegedly created before her death was “irrelevant and inadmissible.” Prosecutors had attempted to use Diane’s alleged new will to prove McIver had a financial motive to kill her.

Diane’s original will was executed in 2006 – before the McIvers’ godson was born – and included “substantial bequests to (Tex) McIver and established a trust for his benefit,” the supreme court’s ruling said.

But a coworker and friend of Diane testified that a year and a half before her death, Diane entrusted her with making copies of a “new will.” The court also heard testimony Diane had prepared a codicil – a document modifying a person’s will – which added their godson as a beneficiary, but that codicil was never executed.

Prosecutors could not prove a new will existed, and the state supreme court ruled there was no proof McIver knew about it or its contents – nor that there was evidence the alleged new will would give him a reason to want to kill Diane.

Instead of a new trial, a guilty plea on lesser charges

Less than a month after the court’s ruling was published, the district attorney’s office said it would retry McIver on felony murder and the aggravated assault and firearm possession charges, highlighting jurors previously “unanimously convicted (McIver) of intentional crimes of violence against his wife.”

Instead, prosecutors allowed him last month to plead guilty to unintentionally causing his wife’s death. He was sentenced to 15 years: eight in prison and seven on probation, with the first five probation years served under home confinement with a curfew and an ankle monitor, according to the plea agreement. The time he’s already served behind bars will be counted toward his eight-year prison term.

“The resolution reached allows those who loved, cared, and admired Diane McIver to close this chapter and move forward the best they can by honoring the memory of Mrs. McIver who was full of life and touched and changed the lives of many with her larger than life personality and vigor,” Chief Deputy District Attorney Adam Abbate said in a statement emailed to CNN.

McIver is already eligible for parole because he has served more than what is required by Georgia law for the involuntary manslaughter charge, Samuel told CNN, adding the decision is ultimately up to the parole board.

Amanda Clark Palmer, another of McIver’s attorneys, said the plea “recognizes that Tex never intended to hurt Diane. He loved her deeply and still loves her today. He would never do anything to hurt her, much less intend to kill her.”

In a statement before the judge on Friday, McIver apologized for the killing.

“She died as a result of my actions, plain and simple.”

CNN’s Jamiel Lynch contributed to this report.

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