AJC exclusive: Tex McIver in limbo as police probe continues

4:00 a.m. Saturday, Nov. 26, 2016 Local
Hyosub Shin
November 17, 2016 Decatur - Claud “Tex” McIver looks as his lawyer Steve Maples speaks on Thursday, November 17, 2016. McIver, an Atlanta lawyer, shot his wife Diane McIver Sunday, Sept. 25, while the couple headed home in their SUV. HYOSUB SHIN / HSHIN@AJC.COM

Pictures of Diane McIver rolled across the screen during a recent memorial in Buckhead celebrating her life. People recalled her rise from an Alabama childhood in a trailer to the heights of Atlanta’s business world. They talked about the joy at her horse-ranch wedding, and the many ways she came through for people.

Among those who spoke: her husband Claud “Tex” McIver, the man who fired the gun that killed her.

The gathering stands in stark contrast to an earlier memorial at U.S. Enterprises, the Atlanta company where Diane rose to lead under the wing of founder Billy Corey. At that memorial, Tex McIver attended but had no speaking part. Virtually none of the photos of Diane included her husband.

McIver said he recently reached out to Corey, who people say treated Diane as a daughter.

“I have asked to meet with him,” McIver told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution during an exclusive interview. “He has not responded.”

Two months have passed since McIver shot and killed his wife while they were driving to their Buckhead condo from their Putnam County ranch. The case, involving a high-powered Atlanta couple, has captured public interest touching on issues of wealth, class and race. Police continue to investigate and have said little about the Sept. 25 shooting.

That’s left McIver in a kind of limbo, waiting to see what authorities do. Many friends have rallied around him. Others have distanced themselves. Amid the chatter on social media, there is deep suspicion in some quarters, fueled by the strange circumstances surrounding the shooting and McIver’s own shifting version of events.

For his part, McIver has said the shooting was an accident. He said the couple pulled their .38 caliber pistol from the SUV’s center console when they happened upon what they thought was a dicey part of Atlanta. Shortly thereafter, he said he nodded off in the back seat, awoke suddenly near Piedmont Park and the gun went off.

His attorney, Stephen Maples, has said that McIver accidentally pulled the trigger and that the gun did not go off for some other mysterious reason.

For now, McIver is staying close to home, taking time off from his corporate attorney work and his political life, which includes a high-ranking post on the state Board of Elections.

McIver recently broke weeks of silence and agreed to talk to the AJC. He said he wanted to address “the untruths” swirling about him, such as those who say he killed his wife for her money or because he had another love interest. He responded to those who say his story doesn’t add up. And he recounted the moment his wife died in Emory University Hospital. The interview lasted more than two hours.

In addition, two AJC reporters attended the private memorial in Buckhead for his wife, where they spoke to several people close to the couple.

That gathering on Nov. 9 showed numerous people standing by McIver, including some of Diane’s close friends. But McIver acknowledged that others have distanced themselves, or at least stopped calling. The 73-year-old attorney sees his life playing out in front-page headlines, television news reports and a welter of social media commentary, some of which questions the veracity of his story.

For years, Tex McIver has been known as a nationally recognized lawyer and a well-known figure in state Republican politics, having held fundraisers for governors at the couple’s ranch not far from Reynolds Plantation.

That life is on hold. The man who could stroll comfortably into the highest offices of state power is now reluctant to even walk into a car dealership. His 2013 Ford Expedition — a bullet hole through the front passenger seat — remains with the Atlanta Police Department, seized in the investigation. He’s worried that purchasing a new car will look bad, so soon after his wife’s death.

“I need a car,” McIver said. “But I don’t want to go buy a car and have somebody say, ‘Aha, he did that with her money.’ ”

Russ Knox, assistant manager and training director at Sandy Springs Gun Club and Range, walks us through the logistics of shooting a gun. (Erica A. Hernandez/AJC)

Tex McIver said he knows some people don’t believe his story or that his wife’s death will devastate him till the end of his days.

“Not only have you lost your life partner, but you’re the reason she’s lost,” he said of his 64-year-old wife. He added, “It’ll never go away. I might get better at compartmentalizing it, but it will always be there.”

He said he’s not angry at those who doubt him, just disappointed.

“All the untruths — that seems to reach a level of credibility that’s just astonishing,” he said in the office of his attorney in Decatur. “It’s like a nightmare that will never stop.”

During the interview, McIver sat at a conference table beside his attorney. He wore a black suit with a solid dark necktie. He spoke in measured tones, occasionally stopping when he appeared overwhelmed by emotion.

He said some critics have found his phone number and left harsh, accusatory messages.

Some of that criticism has focused on his changing story regarding that night.

Did or didn’t he pull out the gun because he thought they happened upon a Black Lives Matter rally? Had he been drinking that night? (Just a sip, he told the AJC.)

Did the gun go off when the vehicle hit a bump, as he said early on, or was the vehicle standing still, as recalled by the woman who was driving the SUV?

Social media chatter has focused on these questions, as well as others, such as why didn’t McIver call 911 immediately after the shooting near Piedmont Park. And why did they drive to Emory when there were hospitals closer? And how did he manage, as he has said, to nearly fall asleep in the backseat of the vehicle so soon after pulling out a gun?

On that point, McIver and Maples explained that he suffers from a sleep disorder, but would not detail it further. McIver himself noted he has taken Melatonin for it, an over-the-counter remedy said to help people sleep.

McIver refused to respond to some AJC questions. He declined to answer specific questions about the shooting itself. His attorney asserted that he and his client have detailed it before, and don’t want another set of comments out there to be dissected.

McIver would not address exactly how the pistol fired, sending the fatal bullet through the leather passenger seat into his wife’s back. He did say he was unaware whether the hammer on the pistol, which was wrapped in a plastic bag, was cocked.

Maples said any inconsistencies are few and minor, and that these points do not speak to the more important question of whether he shot his wife on purpose or by accident.

Local civil rights activists have taken umbrage at the mention of Black Lives Matter, asserting it played off racial stereotypes. Other people just thought McIver’s version of events, as civil rights activist Joe Beasley has said, sounded “fishy.”

McIver said, “To me there are no inconsistencies. Once the facts are clear there isn’t.”

McIver knows people speculate that he killed his wife on purpose, for her money or because he had been unfaithful to her.

“That hurts,” he said. “It’s people that don’t know us.”

He said he is in good financial shape. In documents from his 2000 divorce, his first wife estimated that he had income of around $600,000 a year, which includes $425,000 from his law practice.

Both he and Diane had undergone difficult divorces where money had become an issue. They largely kept their finances separate, he said.

“I never asked what she earned,” McIver said. “It didn’t make any difference. I loved her for what she was, and she didn’t ask me.”

McIver filed a financial disclosure with the state in 2010, related to his role on the state Board of Elections. It noted that he was partner in Fisher & Phillips, an Atlanta-based law firm he joined decades ago. Today, the firm has 350 lawyers and is one of the largest law firms in the country representing companies involved in labor disputes.

McIver’s 2010 disclosure, the most recent to provide ownership details, shows he owned two companies associated with the mining company Arcilla. He also owned a Buckhead condo and the ranch in Putnam, each of which is listed as having a value in excess of $200,000.

That disclosure also offers insight into Diane’s successful financial life, as does her last will and testament, another public document obtained by the AJC.

Diane was president of U.S. Enterprises — Corey’s umbrella company for his business empire — and she had ownership in three other companies, including Clay Management Inc. She also had ownership in seven properties, including the condo and ranch, the financial statement said.

In Diane’s will, filed in 2006, Tex McIver is the primary beneficiary. He is listed as executor and receives the majority of her assets. But Diane also gives her friend and driver, James Hugh and his wife, $200,000. Diane’s estate will also pay college costs for the Hughs’ two children.

Phyllis Gable, the couple’s housekeeper, is given $50,000.

Diane had a million-dollar life insurance policy through one of her companies, McIver said. That money would be paid to the company, which he said has multiple owners. Diane’s shares in the company would come to Tex McIver.

In addition, Diane had her own separate life insurance policy but he declined to provide the amount.

One by one, people at the Buckhead memorial stepped up and spoke about a woman they described as having a zest for life and knack for taking charge and leading people. Everyone tried to stay upbeat about her extraordinary life.

At one point, when someone veered into sorrow, a side door slammed shut in the wind. Everyone laughed a bit, deciding Diane would have no more of that.

Rachel Styles, a friend of Diane’s for decades, was there. She served as Diane’s personal assistant and helped plan Tex and Diane’s 2005 wedding at the ranch. She currently serves as Tex McIver’s bookkeeper.

She said the couple loved one another.

“They worshiped each other,” Styles said. “Tex would never hurt Diane.”

The memorial highlighted Diane’s journey from a hardscrabble childhood. She never knew her father, and her mother was an alcoholic who went through several husbands. Her brother died in his early 20s.

The family moved to Atlanta when Diane was in high school. Billy Corey spotted her potential early on, hiring her at 17 as a part-time payroll clerk. She worked nights to get an accounting degree from Georgia State University.

She spent her entire career, nearly 45 years, with Corey. By the time Diane met McIver in about 2000, she had risen to be president of Corey’s companies, a business empire that includes gas stations, billboards and an airport advertising business.

When Corey — a man known for his grit and backbone — successfully sued Atlanta in the 2000s for unfair bidding practices on an airport advertising contract, Diane helped lead the charge.

Corey declined the AJC’s request for an interview.

McIver met Diane shortly after she moved into his Buckhead condo building. McIver said he openly pursued “this gorgeous woman,” trying to connect with her through friends. One day she called him on his cell, saying, “I understand you would like to meet me.”

She asked where he was - in the condo workout room - and said she’d be down in 15 minutes. They became engaged a few years later on horseback at the ranch.

Craig Stringer, a Corey vice president who worked with Diane, was also at the memorial. He considers both the McIvers friends, and said he believes Tex McIver’s story.

“If I thought (Tex) purposely shot my best friend, do you think I would have been there?” Stringer said of the memorial. “I still love him. I miss my best friend.”

Stringer had spent time with the couple the day of the shooting, playing 18 holes of golf with them at Reynolds Plantation. Diane was a very good player. She shot a 76; Tex a 94.

On the way back to Atlanta, they met for dinner at a LongHorn Steakhouse in Conyers.

“It was a wonderful day,” Stringer told the AJC. They all chatted outside the steakhouse afterwards.

“We hugged and kissed,” he recalled, “and told everyone to be safe.”

Hours later, the McIvers’ SUV pulled up to the curb at Emory’s emergency room off Clifton Road.

“Gunshot!” McIver recalled yelling out.

Emergency crews descended on the car with a gurney as McIver helped lift his wife out of the front seat. He said he held her hand as they all went inside to a room. Amid the rush of people in and out, a doctor told him he had to leave.

He was escorted to a separate room, where a woman from the hospital tried to comfort him, telling him the hospital had a “championship team” of surgeons.

He said a doctor told him that Diane said it was an accident. He got the impression that Diane was going to live.

“Then came the darkest moment of my life,” McIver said.

He saw two surgeons and a female chaplain come around a corner.

He said he instinctively looked behind him, hoping they were walking toward someone else. No one was there.

The surgeon spoke.

About a month passed before Tex McIver picked up his wife’s ashes.

He had the ashes placed into 11 small urns for people close to Diane. McIver’s mother is receiving one. So are Wanda and James Hugh, the couple’s driver.

McIver considers himself on a journey to deliver these urns. Each becomes a solemn occasion that draws tears, and a bit of closure.

But McIver, for his part, said closure is a long way off. There are too many distractions — the investigation, the public attention, the uncertainty of his future.

“I’d just like it to be over,” he said, “so I can seek my own seclusion.”

View full experience