By Jamiel Lynch and Christina Maxouris, CNN
Georgia’s highest court on Thursday unanimously overturned the murder conviction of a prominent Atlanta attorney in the death of his wife and granted him a new trial.
Claud “Tex” McIver was convicted in 2018 of felony murder and other charges stemming from the 2016 killing of his wife, Diane, who was fatally shot by McIver while sitting in front of him in a car. The attorney previously told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution the shooting was an accident and that the gun, which was on his lap while he was sleeping in the back seat, fired after he was abruptly awoken.
The weekslong trial gripped the city’s attention and included testimony from the friend who was driving the vehicle, firearms experts and a sleep expert who told jurors McIver suffered from a sleep behavior disorder — which defense attorneys suggested was partially to blame for the shooting, according to the AJC. Prosecutors had called attention to alleged conflicts between the couple, including over financial interests.
Georgia’s Supreme Court overturned McIver’s felony murder conviction, ruling that the jury should have been instructed by the court that they could consider a lesser charge of involuntary manslaughter.
The court said based on the evidence and testimony during the trial, “the jury could have concluded that the revolver was not deliberately or intentionally fired, bur 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,” according to the ruling.
The court further found that the evidence supporting that McIver intended to kill his wife was “disputed and circumstantial,” adding, “No witness testified to any disagreement or quarrel between McIver and Diane, and many witnesses testified that they were very much in love.”
The court also overturned McIver’s conviction for possession of a firearm in the commission of a felony, but did uphold his conviction of influencing a witness.
In a statement to CNN, McIver’s attorneys said they were “delighted” by the court’s decision, adding McIver 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.”
“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,” attorneys Amanda Clark Palmer, Don Samuel and Bruce Harvey said in a statement.
McIver was still in the custody of the Georgia Department of Corrections Thursday evening, Clark Palmer told CNN, adding his attorneys were planning to file a bond motion “ASAP.”
“I believe a judge will grant him a bond pending retrial,” the attorney added.
CNN has reached out to the Fulton County District Attorney’s office for comment.
This is the second high-profile murder conviction overturned by Georgia’s Supreme Court in the span of two weeks. Last week, the court overturned the murder conviction of Justin Ross Harris, who had been sentenced to life without parole for the 2014 hot-car death of his 22-month-old son, Cooper.
In that case, the court ruled 6-3 that evidence submitted by prosecutors of Harris’ extramarital sexual relationships had unfair prejudicial impact on the jury.
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