The jury that convicted Claud “Tex” McIver of his wife’s murder barely heard his voice: The politically connected attorney chose not to testify.
Before his trial, McIver spoke out often, raising suspicions with almost every word. And on Wednesday, McIver demonstrated again why silence can be golden, delivering a rambling 16-minute diatribe, lamenting his travails, thanking his supporters and rhapsodizing about the love of his life, who he shot in the back. Tex’s final salvo reinforced a negative image his critics say he was largely responsible for creating: Tone-deaf. Incoherent. Incriminating.
After he was done, Chief Superior Court Judge Robert McBurney sentenced McIver, handcuffed, shackled and dressed in navy blue prison togs, to the mandatory life in prison for the September 2016 murder of his wife Diane, a high-powered Buckhead businesswoman with an unsparing tongue and a giving heart. McIver claimed the shooting was accidental, saying he fell asleep — gun in hand — in the back seat of his Ford Expedition.
The judge granted him the possibility of parole, but McIver would have to complete 30 years behind bars to become eligible. That will place him well past his 100th birthday. McBurney’s decision was based at least partly on the recommendation of both the prosecution and the defense.
But it was clear he was not inclined to do McIver any favors.
“I’ll tell you what’s most telling, McBurney said. “You had as much time as you wanted to share with me what you thought was important for me to hear and I guess your audience to hear. … I didn’t ever hear you say you’re sorry for what you did. To me, that silence speaks volumes.”
McIver started his monologue thanking his prison pen pals who are convinced he’s gotten a raw deal. He read a note from a woman in Ireland, “The injustice done to you is shocking. Know that a lot of people see through these lies.”
Another supporter sent him recipes. A jockey from the west coast of Australia corresponded with him about his favorite horse, who had retired, and was now free to enjoy playful dips into the surf. McIver told the judge he had received an “outpouring of support beyond anything any of us suspected.”
He spoke about missing Chick-fil-A, about his godson Austin’s prowess on the baseball field and acumen in the classroom.
Finally, he spoke of his late wife, in terms that seemed to contradict his actions in the days and weeks after her shooting — inquiring about her Social Security benefits, remarking on his romantic interest in a neighbor and friend, auctioning most of his wife’s jewels and clothing in the days and weeks after the shooting.
“The luckiest day of my life was when Diane chose me,” he said. “We loved each other like small children, unabashedly.”
He said he’d often look at Diane and ask himself, “Is this truly real? Is this real? Because if it’s not real pinch me because this is the greatest dream I’ve had and I don’t want to wake up.”
She’d ask the same question, sometimes telepathically, he said: “We just couldn’t believe it was that, that good.”
McIver, with no less hyperbole than a poet from the Romantic period, said he could not recall a single time when the two had cross words.
And she remains with him, even in jail, where he said he’s spent 263 nights since his initial arrest.
“She has joined me there,” he said. “It’s as if she’s on the other side of a curtain or in another dimension. I’ve never felt alone.”
McBurney defended the jurors — some of whom have raised questions about their compromise verdict because of the mandatory life sentence — saying they paid close attention to the evidence.
“What the jury said in the end was that it was not an accident,” he said. “The jury concluded you intentionally pulled the trigger.”
The judge wasn’t the only one looking for an apology. Elaine Williams, a paralegal at Diane’s company who delivered one of four victim impact statements for the state, said she “so wanted to believe it was an accident.”
But Tex McIver showed “no compassion or consideration,” she said. “We never got an ‘I’m sorry.’ “
Billy Corey, the owner and founder of U.S. Enterprises, said Diane, as president, was a big reason for the company’s success. He called her “the matriarch and leader” of his company.
“Diane’s death was not an accident,” Corey said, ending his statement by saying, “Rest in peace, Diane.”
Dani Jo Carter, the last person besides Tex to see Diane alive, said the defendant had lied to her and tried to get her to lie for him.
“It didn’t work,” she said. Carter said there are times when she picks up the phone to call her friend, but then realizes she’s no longer there.
“I miss her terribly,” Carter said, a victim-witness advocate rubbing her back for comfort.
Jay Grover, a vice president of the Corey company, called Diane “the savviest, shrewdest businesswoman I’ve ever known.”
Diane’s loss changed the company in many ways. It sold its advertising and billboard businesses. Many employees were affected, Grover said.
“The intentional action of Claud Lee McIver and a shiny silver bullet caused great heartache, pain and despair and left a huge void,” Grover said.
He then looked at McIver and said, “Claud Lee McIver – .” But McBurney cut him off, saying he had to address the court, not the defendant. Grover then sat down in the gallery.
As he left the courtroom, Grover shared what he was about to tell McIver: “May God have mercy on your soul.”
Diane’s soul, McIver believes, remains in his corner.
Even though she “has left her earth suit,” McIver said, she has stayed with him and was even in the courtroom at his sentencing.
“I know she’s here, I feel her presence,” McIver said, telling the judge he had something to tell his late wife.
“Darling, you have brought me more joy and fulfillment that few men on this earth have ever known,” he said. “Thank you, until we are together again.”