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Steve Fennessy

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A structure that produces more energy than it uses? In the deep south? Welcome to the Kendeda building.

Kendeda Building“Think about what we say when we say, ‘Throw it away.’ Where is the ‘away?’ The whole notion of throwing something away implies, ‘I don’t care where away is. It’s not my problem. It’s someone else’s problem.’”

Shan Arora is standing in the light-filled entrance of the Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design, which was built to actually produce more energy than it consumes. Arora is the building’s director, and he’s just getting warmed up. “Until there’s a market mechanism that doesn’t make it someone else’s problem,” he’s saying, “there’s a moral imperative to make sure it’s not someone else’s problem.”

Arora is talking about one thing in particular—the debris generated by construction and demolition projects nationwide, which in 2017 totaled 569 million tons, and the fact that the construction of the Kendeda building added barely any to that total—but he also could be speaking about something bigger. Which is this: We in America, we in virtually every industrialized nation on Earth, couldn’t be more aware of the existential threat that global warming poses to our children and their children, but we are so overwhelmed at the scope of the problem that we feel powerless, and so we change almost nothing. And with our dollars, and from our politicians, we demand almost nothing.

Kendeda BuildingAnd so the Kendeda building—which opened last fall and is named for the philanthropy founded by Diana Blank, who funded its $30 million construction and operation on the Georgia Tech campus—is both a laboratory for ecosustainability but also a glimpse at a possible future that feels something like empowerment. Maybe even hope.

Which brings us back to the construction waste. The ceiling is made of alternating 2x4s and 2x6s nailed together (from a sustainable forest in Alabama, and from 25,000 feet recovered from demolished movie sets) and the shorn ends were not discarded but glued together to form the building’s stairs. This is one example of approximately 5,302 (only a slight exaggeration) in which the Kendeda building is doing things differently in its quest to become certified as a “living” building. From collecting rainwater in a 50,000-gallon cistern to generating electricity from the solar panels atop the roof, to composting human waste in a kind of sawdust-filled litterbox, to gathering honey from the beehives on the upper deck, the Kendeda building is an elaborate proof of concept that we have the knowhow (provided there’s the will and the money) to construct buildings that are not in conflict with the earth but in harmony with it. Or, as Diana Blank has put it, a building that will do “real good rather than just less harm.”

But ultimately, as Arora points out, the “living” part of the Kendeda building will be best reflected by the students who take classes there. “Right here, kids are going to have conversations, and those ideas are going to crosspollinate,” Arora says. “And the solution to the problems we face? It’s going to be from right here.”

• The Living Building Challenge, an international green-building certification program, is inspired by the flower. “They give more in the form of pollen, seeds, and then they disappear, leaving no trace that they’d ever been here except for more life,” Arora explains. To be certified, the Kendeda building must meet, over 12 months, criteria in seven areas: beauty, place, equity, water, energy, materials, and health.

Kendeda BuildingThe 917 photovoltaic panels on the roof will generate 455 megawatt-hours a year, while the building itself will consume only around 330. Nearby buildings will use its excess energy.

The Living Building Challenge requires that 20 percent of the site be devoted to urban agriculture. A roof deck will contain a pollinator garden, as well as beehives.

Kendeda Building

• Triple-pane windows keep out the winter cold, and automated blinds on the west-facing windows reduce the heat gain in summer The windows are glazed with a dot matrix pattern to reduce bird collisions.

The solar panels are angled to direct rainwater into gutters, which flow into a 50,000-gallon cistern in the basement. Some of it is treated and reused as drinking water, the rest as irrigation.

Kendeda BuildingBack there, around that corner? Those are the elevators. “They’re hard to find on purpose,” Arora says. “We want people to use the stairs.” But what is front and center? The ramp. “It’s not an accident. The equity petal [of the Living Building challenge] forces us to think, ‘What does equity in the built environment mean?’”

Looking for chillers on the roof? You won’t find any. Instead, the building is cooled by Big Ass fans (that’s the brand name) and by the hot or cold water flowing through pipes within the concrete floors, which warm or cool the air above them.

Making cement for concrete produces up to 8 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. While the Kendeda building floors are concrete—the humidity and termites of the South rule out a wood foundation—the structure remains primarily wood and recycled brick. The concrete that is here contains captured CO2 from smokestacks. The CO2 was liquified and injected during the mixing. Instead of going into the atmosphere, it’s sealed within the floor.

Kendeda Building

Once the system gets state approval, the building’s water supply will come from rainwater that is treated with ultraviolet light.Kendeda Building

• The Red List. These are ingredients that a “living building” must avoid in the materials that go into its construction. Some are obvious (asbestos, volatile organic compounds, heavy metals) but others may surprise you. The “VC” in PVC pipes, a staple of many construction projects, stands for vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen. And when PVC is thrown in a dump, it leaches dioxins into the soil. There is no safe level of exposure to dioxins. The Kendeda building instead uses HDPE, which has the added benefit of being flexible.

Kendeda BuildingThe ceiling is built of panels constructed with alternating 2x4s and 2x6s. Besides its visual appeal, the uneven surface eliminates echo. The panels were built by participants in Georgia Works!, which trains formerly homeless people.

Nature provides most of the daytime lighting but is augmented by LED lights. Sensors automatically detect the level of light needed and turn themselves off. Electrical outlets, meanwhile, can be hard to find—by design.

Kendeda BuildingCountertops were constructed from trees that had fallen down on the Georgia Tech campus. And the stairs (below) were built using shorn ends from the ceiling panels. Waste not, want not.

Kendeda BuildingThe Kendeda building would be the 25th certified “living building” on the planet. To be certified, it must first meet a set of rigorous benchmarks over the course of 12 months.

Kendeda BuildingWhile it’s connected to municipal water and sewer, the Kendeda building is designed to never need them. The waste produced here is dealt with here. So, a lot of attention is paid to toilets. “The most efficient commercial toilet you can buy right now uses a gallon per flush,” Arora says. “Our toilet uses a tablespoon.” In fact, there is no flushing. Gravity pushes down a slow but steady mass of foam, which is activated by motion detectors.

Kendeda BuildingThe tile in the bathroom is reclaimed from a leaky, century-old slate roof atop the Georgia Tech alumni house. “In a normal construction process, this would have been thrown away,” Arora says. “Just think about all the perfectly good stuff we throw away.”

Kendeda BuildingWhat goes down the toilet ends up here (above). “It’s a high-tech building, but this is low-tech,” Arora says. “It’s basically an indoor outhouse.” Within the bins are pine shavings and sawdust, which absorb the moisture of the waste. (And no, this room doesn’t smell.)

This article appears in our February 2020 issue.

Irony abounds in the Richard Jewell film. A new book, The Suspect, tells the definitive story

The Suspect Richard Jewell
A police car assists in clearing the crowd shortly after the 1996 bombing at Centennial Olympic Park.

Photograph by Simon P. Barnett/Allsport/Getty Images

Seen in the context of the digital age, the events in the wake of the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing feel almost prehistoric. There was no Twitter. No Facebook. Fox News didn’t even exist. Just 12 percent of Americans went online for news. And three out of four still read a newspaper—an actual printed newspaper—every day.

Today, the for-profit news model is in a steady and unmitigated freefall. More Americans get their news from their Facebook feed than from newspapers, and—go figure—the trust in our news sources is at an all-time low.

Now, in the baleful winter of our journalistic discontent, comes Richard Jewell, a feature film directed by Clint Eastwood and shot in Atlanta that recounts the Olympic park bombing, the FBI’s misguided focus on Jewell as a suspect, the leaking of his name to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and the wreckage, legal and otherwise, left in the wake of it all.

There are ironies within ironies at work within and around Eastwood’s film. For one thing, the movie, which at times reduces journalists to odious caricatures, is itself based on two pieces of remarkable journalism. One is a 1997 Vanity Fair story on Jewell written by Marie Brenner. If newspapers are the first draft of history, Brenner’s story was a refined and comprehensive second draft that focused on the toll that being outed as a suspect took on Jewell in the 88 days between the bombing and when Kent Alexander, then U.S. attorney for the northern district of Georgia, formally cleared Jewell’s name. The other piece of source material is The Suspect, a book published last month and co-authored by Alexander and Kevin Salwen, who in the 1990s was an Atlanta-based editor for the Wall Street Journal.

The Suspect: An Olympic Bombing, the FBI, the Media, and Richard Jewell, the Man Caught in the Middle book cover
The Suspect

Photograph courtesy of Abrams

The Suspect draws in part on journals Alexander kept in the days after the bombing, which claimed the lives of two people but would have indisputably killed more but for Jewell, who spotted the suspicious backpack containing the nail bomb, alerted authorities, and helped widen the perimeter in the minutes before it exploded. The journal, Alexander told me, “was a good way to keep a continual record of what was happening in the investigation. I wasn’t doing it to write a book.”

Over the five years that Alexander and Salwen spent researching and writing the book, the journal, Alexander said, served “as a guide for where to go for the facts, rather than for the facts themselves.” Indeed, The Suspect is not at all a memoir—Alexander appears sporadically throughout the book and is identified in the third-person—but an exhaustively researched exploration into the collateral damage caused by the detonation of the bomb. In 2003, the fugitive Eric Rudolph was captured and confessed not only to the Olympic Park bombing but to three other bombings—two at abortion clinics and one at a lesbian bar in Atlanta. He is serving four consecutive life sentences in federal prison.

Alexander said he began doubting the likelihood that Jewell was the bomber not long after attention first focused on the security guard. “After a week or so, it became clear that there was a lot more exculpatory evidence than inculpatory evidence,” Alexander said. The job of a U.S. attorney is, ostensibly, to be the chief law enforcement officer in his or her respective district. The agencies—the FBI, say, or the ATF or the IRS—conduct the investigations while the U.S. attorney decides whether there’s sufficient evidence to bring a case to a grand jury.

In the days and weeks after the bombing, the FBI pursued its investigation into Jewell with a zeal and blinkered intensity that in retrospect feels more suited to a bumbling police state than to a country where due process is supposedly sacrosanct. On Tuesday, July 30, the same day that the AJC accurately named Jewell as a person of interest in the bombing, the FBI persuaded the security guard to accompany lead investigator Don Johnson to its headquarters to sit for an interview that would be used, Johnson told him, as a training video for first responders. It was an absurd lie, but Jewell, who’d worked briefly as a sheriff’s deputy and idolized law enforcement, went along. By then, Alexander and Salwen write in The Suspect, investigators were so convinced Jewell was the bomber that “a prison cell had been prepared that morning at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary. If Jewell confessed, he would be transported directly to the maximum-security facility.”

The AJC’s scoop—“FBI suspects ‘hero’ guard may have planted bomb”—hit the streets just as Johnson was escorting Jewell to FBI headquarters. The media parked out in front of his apartment on Buford Highway. “I’m living a nightmare,” Jewell’s mother, Bobbi, would tell 60 Minutes. It was AJC reporter Kathy Scruggs who got the tip from a source that Jewell was the focus of the FBI probe. Scruggs was deposed multiple times in the subsequent libel litigation but never disclosed the name of her source. But Alexander and Salwen, in their book, do. It was Johnson, according to reporting done by the authors. (Johnson, in 2003, and Jewell, in 2007, both died of heart attacks. Scruggs, who struggled with depression and a reliance on prescription medications, died of an overdose in 2001.)

Which brings us to another irony: Scruggs, played by Olivia Wilde, is portrayed by name in Eastwood’s film. But the lead FBI agent is given the fictitious name Tom Shaw. After he divulges Jewell’s name, the Scruggs character offers to have sex with the agent. Wilde, herself the daughter of journalists (if you’re keeping track of ironies), has defended her portrayal of Scruggs, saying that it’s “interesting that when audiences recognize sexuality within a character, they immediately, when it’s a woman, allow it to define her, and I think we should stop doing that and allow for nuance.” Wilde is certainly on to something here, but what her comments have to do with the notion that Scruggs traded sex for a scoop—for which no evidence has ever emerged—is lost on me.

The portrayal of Scruggs rankled the AJC’s corporate parent, Cox Enterprises, which demanded that Warner Brothers, the production company, tack a disclaimer to the film. In its response, Warner Brothers said, “It is unfortunate and the ultimate irony that the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, having been a part of the rush to judgment of Richard Jewell, is now trying to malign our filmmakers and cast.”

Kent Alexander and Kevin Salwen
The Suspect authors Kent Alexander (left) and Kevin Salwen

Photograph courtesy of Abrams

Alexander and Salwen spent the days before and after the film’s release last week speaking around Atlanta, including to the Atlanta Press Club and the AJC.

“We ought to be having discussions about how newsrooms behave, then and now,” Salwen said. “[The Richard Jewell story] is a perfect case for that. I’ve had people come up to me and say, ‘This is a conversation you should be taking to every journalism school in America.’”

For his part, Alexander believes that investigators who feed leaks to reporters should be prosecuted. “There should be more criminal laws in place for anyone who divulges the name of a suspect in a case who’s not even charged,” he said.

Alexander, who left the U.S. attorney’s office in 1997, said when his and Salwen’s reporting confirmed the identity of Scruggs’s source, “I was just angry. I was shocked. I knew this guy, and I did not think it would be somebody I knew. I’m still flabbergasted. Every former agent who I’ve talked to said they’ve been shocked, and they had no idea.

“This idea that anyone would put Richard Jewell’s name out before the FBI was able to interview him was stunning to me. It cut completely against what the strategy was. When I saw the actual headline come out, I was at the FBI on the fourth floor and Richard Jewell was down the hall from me. It was just a throw-your-hands-up moment. How did this happen?”

As both men pointed out, the speed of public disclosures has only accelerated in the age of social media. Salwen mentioned the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013, when social media identified the wrong suspect, and the Duke lacrosse case in 2006, when three players were falsely accused of rape. What needs to always be remembered, Alexander said, “is that there’s a human being at the end of every news story and criminal investigation.”

Said Salwen: “One of the most crucial lessons is that we really need to slow down and stop rushing to judgment. I mean that for the media, which can be under such pressure to break a story. But the other piece of the puzzle is that we in the public need to stop demanding immediate answers to questions that often aren’t answerable right now. The Richard Jewell case, coming before social media, is very much a social media story. Everyone wanted to know who did this, and the reality is once they felt like they had an answer, the confirmation bias just sprang to life. It’s a pretty dangerous thing. We all move on, but who gets left in the rubble but Richard Jewell? These are real human lives.”

This couple’s donation of Impressionist art is one of the most significant in High Museum history

Shouky Shaheen

The first painting Shouky Shaheen ever bought was by Maurice de Vlaminck, an early 20th-century French artist who, like his contemporary, Henri Matisse, was known for his bold colors and rough brushwork. Shaheen paid a local gallery $34,000 for the painting. This was 50 years ago, when Shaheen was making a name for himself in metro Atlanta as an industrial real-estate developer.

But not long after the purchase, Shaheen grew worried. Another collector had sued the same gallery for selling him a fake, and Shaheen was concerned his de Vlaminck might be one as well. So he had it authenticated in New York. Turned out the painting was real, all right, but its true retail value was closer to $14,000. Then, some time later, another painting Shaheen bought turned out to indeed be a fake; the dealer, Shaheen says, refused to refund his money.

“These dealers—they look for a fellow like me coming in and just zap ’em,” Shaheen recalls. The lessons weren’t lost on Shaheen, who decided he’d cut out the gallery middlemen altogether and instead rely on his own eye to acquire paintings. He scoured auction catalogs from Sotheby’s and Christie’s, traveling to their New York City auctions to sit among the same gallery owners whose shops he’d once frequented. Roughly every other year, he’d make a purchase, focusing largely on Impressionist works—paintings of everyday scenes that were produced in the latter part of the 19th century and upended conventions of traditional painting in Europe. The Impressionist movement was sparked in part by the advent of photography, which could objectively capture reality. Relieved now of the responsibility of verisimilitude, Impressionist painters used their canvases to capture moods and shifting light. Shaheen’s interest in Impressionism stemmed from an art-history course he took at the University of Chicago, where he graduated in 1950.

The Impressionist movement was, in its early days, maligned by France’s traditional art community—partly because of the artists’ brushwork, and partly their choice of subject. Instead of painting royal portraits or grand scenes from mythology, artists were turning to their own backyards for inspiration. This is Alfred Sisley’s Une rue a Marly (A street in Marly)

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Doris and Shouky Shaheen Collection. Photos by James Schoomaker/204 Studios

Henri Matisse, the famous post-Impressionist who was 30 years younger than Monet and Sisley, did several studies of his daughter, Marguerite. The Shaheen collection includes this one.

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Doris and Shouky Shaheen Collection. Photos by James Schoomaker/204 Studios

At some point, as the years passed, Shaheen and his wife of 58 years, Doris, found themselves owners not just of discrete paintings but of a collection. The works hung in the dining room, in the living room, all over their home in Buckhead. Taken together, the two dozen paintings of the artists they collected—Matisse, Alfred Sisley, Eugène Boudin, Claude Monet, Auguste Renoir, Amedeo Modigliani, and others—were telling a story of the Impressionist and post-Impressionist movements from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Meanwhile, as more and more works of the era began ending up in museums and in private collections, the market for Impressionist and post-Impressionist works tightened. Prices soared. In 2002, a painting by Cézanne—The Card Players—sold at auction for $259 million.

“The art market now is overpriced,” Shaheen says. “People are using art as investment. We didn’t buy it for the appreciation. We bought it to have. And the appreciation came along. That was good and bad. It was bad because [the rising prices] kept us from buying paintings we really liked.”

Dealers approached Shaheen. “One came to me and said he could get $60 million for my collection,” Shaheen recalls. “But he wanted 20 percent in commission. I said, ‘I’m not interested.’”

“Without question, this is one of the most significant donations in [High Museum] history.”

Shaheen turned 90 this year. He says that he and his wife decided it would be best to “let the paintings go” while they were both still alive so the artworks’ future could be ensured. Shaheen, who had once served on the High Museum’s board of directors, decided he and his wife would donate 24 to the High, effectively tripling the institution’s collection of Impressionist and post-Impressionist paintings, which already included works by Monet, Pissarro, and others. The newly named Doris and Shouky Shaheen Gallery at the museum began displaying the paintings in November. After five years, the paintings will cycle through periods of display. One of the conditions of the donation, Shaheen says, was that the museum cannot sell any of the paintings for 25 years.

“Without question, this is one of the most significant donations in our history,” says Rand Suffolk, the High’s director. “To add three Monets to our existing [two] Monets, to have different time periods of his work, shows the arc of that artist’s creativity.”

Claude Monet’s Maisons au bord de la route (Houses along the roadside)

High Museum of Art, Atlanta, Doris and Shouky Shaheen Collection. Photos by James Schoomaker/204 Studios

For Claudia Einecke, the museum’s curator of European art, the Shaheen collection opens new possibilities for organizing exhibitions that teach the evolution of not just an artist but of individual paintings. One of the works the Shaheens donated was a study—essentially, an early version of an eventual painting—by Matisse of his daughter at a piano. “All the details are not worked out yet,” Einecke says. “As a curator, this is exactly the type of thing that’s attractive because it allows us to talk about the process and the creativity and the making of these works.”

After the Shaheens donated the paintings, the walls of their home were full of holes where the works had hung. They had them painted over. Giving the paintings away now, Shouky Shaheen says, “was the right thing. I needed to do it while I was still alive. Now, the museum has a great Impressionist and post-Impressionist group of paintings. I think it’s the best one south of Washington.”

But Shaheen’s acquisition days are not done, so the High should expect more. “I plan to add to the collection because there are certain gaps in it. I’m looking for a good Renoir to put in there.”

This article appears in our December 2019 issue.

Did Anthony Hill have to die?

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When Grisselle Torres dialed 911 on March 9, 2015, all she wanted was some help. Not for her, but for Anthony Hill, a tenant at the apartment complex she managed. Hill was a young guy, just 26, and he’d lived in apartment O-8 since the previous July. Beyond that, Torres didn’t know much about him, except that his balcony faced her second-floor office, and, often, when she was arriving for work, he’d call down to her and wish her a good morning. Neighbors liked him, too; he’d play with their kids, remind them to pick up after themselves. He was, she’d later recall, a gentleman.

Together, the 181 units that Torres managed were called the Heights at Chamblee, which is a slightly ridiculous name, considering that the view looking south from the complex is the side of a berm, above which is Chamblee Tucker Road. To leave the Heights, it turns out, you have to go up.

A little after 11 on the morning of March 9, 2015, Hill had left the apartment he shared with his cousin, Kailen Alexander, to go to the gym. Planet Fitness is just a mile down the road, and Hill drove there in his Dodge Dart, checking in at 11:24 a.m. On his way out he chatted briefly with an employee about wanting to upgrade his iPhone. Hill, the employee recalls, was wearing red shorts and a tank top. But then Hill did something odd: He left the gym without taking his keys from behind the desk, bypassed his car altogether, and walked home. He left the car unlocked, not that there was much to steal, though a thief would have learned a lot about Hill from rummaging around the car’s interior. There were documents that showed that Hill was an Air Force veteran. There was his rental contract. And there was a priority-mail envelope containing his mental-health records.

Pedro Castillo, a maintenance supervisor at the Heights, saw Hill walking toward the complex. He was bobbing up and down as he walked. Castillo would tell state police investigators the next day that Hill was wearing just camouflage shorts. (Almost three years later, in a deposition, he’d say that Hill was wearing a shirt, too.)

Castillo saw Hill again a short while later, outside the leasing office. He and another maintenance worker, Deni Hechavarria, had been summoned there by Torres and assistant manager Solangel Rodriguez. At first, Rodriguez had seen Hill face-down on the sidewalk below the office. It seemed as if he’d fainted or was having a seizure, but then he stood and headed up the stairs to the entrance of the leasing office. Now it seemed like Hill was on drugs. He appeared to be pulling things out of his mouth. “Lock the door,” Torres told Rodriguez. From her room inside the leasing office, Torres couldn’t even see Hill but instead relied on what Rodriguez was relaying to her, with Hill on the other side of the glass door, knocking, waving, and calling out, “Hey, it’s me—Anthony,” then alternately crawling and jumping up and down on the landing, gripping the railing.

During the 911 call, Torres is carrying on two conversations—one with Rodriguez, who is observing Hill, and another with an increasingly annoyed emergency operator.

Torres: I don’t know if something happened to him. If you can send someone here, ’cause I don’t know what happened to him.
911: Did you ask her? Him? Ask her or him?
Torres: It’s a him.
911: It’s a what?
Torres: Hold on, hold on. He’s here. He’s awake. Now, he’s up. Yeah, no, I need—
911: —Ask him do he need—
Torres: —He’s on drugs—
911: Ma’am. Ma’am. Ma’am.
Torres: Yes.
911: Ask him if he needs the police or the paramedics.
Torres: Ay, I don’ t know. He . . . I closed my door and he’s, like, knocking on my door. But I think he’s, like, drugged.
911: What does he look like? He’s at the leasing office?
Torres: Yeah, he’s in the, in the . . .
911: Is he at the leasing office, ma’am?
Torres: Yes.
911: Okay, what does he look like? White, black, Hispanic male?
Torres: It’s . . . It’s light-skinned.
911: He’s a light-skinned black male?
Torres: Yeah.
911: What is he wearing?
Torres: He has no shirt, shorts. Um, yeah, send the police, better.
911: What is he wearing, ma’am?
Torres: Police. Huh?
911: What’s he wearing?
Torres: He’s wearing shorts, no shirt, no shoes. Ay, dios mío, se tira!

In court more than three years later, Torres explained that she exclaimed in Spanish because she thought Hill was about to jump off the balcony. Right about then, Castillo and Hechavarria walked up the stairs after seeing Hill knocking on the office door. Both men recalled asking Hill if he was okay.

“The devil is coming,” Hill said. “Help me. Help me.”

Officer Robert Olsen was eating lunch in his car in the Publix parking lot off North Druid Hills Road when the call came from dispatch. It was just past 1 p.m., seven hours since his 10-hour shift had begun. Olsen, who’s gone by “Chip” his whole life, was 52 but had been a cop for just seven years. He’d worked for the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a program specialist, where he monitored “$125 to $140 million in commodity entitlement,” as he would testify. Unhappy, he quit to work for a friend’s company, but it involved sales, which “wasn’t a good fit,” his wife, Kathy, said in a phone interview. So, at 45, Olsen decided he wanted to be a cop. “He’d always wanted to be in the military, but [at his age] it wasn’t really an option,” she said. “So, he said, ‘I might as well be a police officer.’ It’s not exactly the same thing, but it’s serving your community; it’s attention to detail.”

Beginning in January 2008, Olsen commuted from his home in north Fulton to Lithonia to train with cadets in the DeKalb County Police Academy, many young enough to be his children. On July 11, 2008, he graduated.

Olsen worked nights, and the sleep schedule was stressful, especially with a baby in the house, Kathy Olsen said. (Their only child, a son, is now nine.) “It didn’t make for a very happy family life,” she said. Eventually, he moved to days, working a series of desk jobs, including aide to a precinct commander. By March 2015, he had achieved the rank of MPO, or master police officer, right below sergeant.

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
Olsen, left, with Don Samuel, one of his attorneys

Photograph by Steve Schaefer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Up until the day he first saw Anthony Hill, and despite responding to literally thousands of calls during the past seven years, Olsen had never once discharged his weapon in the line of duty. In fact, up until that day, he’d never even drawn his weapon on a suspect. As for his Taser, he’d deployed it just once, and it had not functioned properly. Every performance evaluation that GBI investigators found in Olsen’s personnel file showed him receiving ratings of Exceeds or Far Exceeds.

Along the way, he also received complaints. He was written up for using profanity during a traffic stop. A passenger complained that Olsen was rude to her husband, who was driving, after Olsen pulled him over for running a red light. Olsen allegedly demanded to know if the driver thought he was above the law. Though the complaint was found to be unsubstantiated, his bosses suggested Olsen get more training on his people skills.

Indeed, what’s notable about Olsen’s seven years as a DeKalb County cop is just how much training he had—1,948 hours from 2008 through 2014. While almost a thousand of those hours came during his first-year academy training, starting in 2009, he averaged more than 150 hours of training every year. For an officer to remain certified by the Georgia Peace Officer Standards and Training Council, it’s necessary to take at least 20 hours of training annually, including firearms testing and a one-hour “use of deadly force” class. Individual departments also have their own requirements. But as Olsen put it in court last year, “I searched out other opportunities to make myself . . . a better police officer.” In 2013, for example, he took an eight-hour FEMA course on police response to suicide-bombing attacks, a 24-hour course titled “Homeland Security and Terrorism Analysis,” and a four-hour seminar on elder financial abuse. He also underwent a one-hour class, in December 2010, concerning “excited delirium.” What he learned about the controversial syndrome would be pivotal in his explanation of what happened when he encountered Anthony Hill.

Being a cop “made him a little more cynical, seeing all of the preventable bad stuff,” Kathy Olsen said. “Whenever he’d have to go on a domestic-violence call and there were kids or animals involved, it takes a little piece of your soul.” Kathy, who married Robert Olsen in 2003, said her husband “doesn’t come across as a people person. He’s very reserved. But he can talk your ear off if given the right circumstances.”

On March 9, 2015, Olsen was working the North Central precinct. His territory within the precinct was referred to as 250, and his call sign was 251. The 250 territory roughly straddles Lawrenceville Highway, extending northeast from just outside Decatur to I-285.

At 1:03 p.m., dispatch radioed in. “251 day signal 53. 3028 Chamblee Tucker Road. The Heights at Chamblee apartments at the leasing office. Complainant advised possible signal 22 subject on the balcony. . . . Black male, light-skinned, no shirt, shorts, no shoes. Find out from the complainant.”

“251 clear,” Olsen replied. “Extended ETA.”

What Olsen heard was that a suspicious person—the “signal 53”—was seen at an apartment complex that was a full seven miles away. Beyond being suspicious, the man was, as the “signal 22” denoted, possibly demented. A signal 22 call is considered an emergency mental-health call, and the DeKalb County police manual says that, in addition to an officer, “a supervisor should also respond.” Olsen pulled out of the Publix parking lot and headed north on 285. He would be on his own.

Anthony Hill grew up in Moncks Corner, South Carolina, and was raised by his mother, Carolyn Giummo, and her parents, Theola and William Baylor. Hill was especially close to his grandfather, a career educator who was a pillar of his community in this part of the South Carolina Lowcountry. After William Baylor died in 2008, Hill had 3608—the years of his grandfather’s birth and death—tattooed on his chest, along with Baylor’s oft-repeated advice to his grandson: “Be sensible.”

Hill had always been precocious and loved music. “He could sing,” his mother said in a 2018 deposition. “He taught himself how to play the saxophone, the piano, the clarinet, the guitar. And he liked making beats and singing demos.”

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
Protesters took to the streets after Hill’s death.

Photograph by David Goldman/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Giummo said her son had wanted to attend the University of Tennessee to study music, but the University of South Carolina had offered him a scholarship; she said he had scored a perfect 36 on the English ACT. USC was closer to his family. “He could be home for the holidays,” she said, “because we spent every holiday together, every vacation.”

But in 2008, the same year that his grandfather died, Hill left USC, a year and a half after matriculating. That fall, he enlisted in the Air Force, where two of Hill’s uncles had also served.

In September 2010, Hill was deployed to Afghanistan, where he was a munitions specialist at Kandahar Airfield, the site of frequent suicide-bomber and rocket attacks by the Taliban. Kailen Alexander, Hill’s cousin and Atlanta roommate, would later recall that Hill spoke about seeing children killed. But when Air Force officials screened Hill for possible posttraumatic stress disorder after his return from Afghanistan, he denied being wounded or having witnessed casualties. Physicians determined he did not meet the criteria for PTSD.

In August 2011, five months after leaving Afghanistan, Hill reported to an Air Force nurse practitioner that he was feeling anxious and depressed. He was isolating from others. He described periods of intense creativity, always at night, during which he’d write music but then couldn’t recapture that creativity at other times. A month later he saw a psychiatrist, who prescribed him BuSpar for anxiety, as well as melatonin. After Hill complained that his brain was not “working properly,” that it was “rebooting,” his psychiatrist, in December 2011, prescribed Klonopin. The medication seemed to work, at least for a while: He rediscovered his music and was feeling more sociable.

Then, in February 2012, Hill had a setback. The anxiety returned. He was spending money recklessly—so much on recording equipment he was trying to return it—and not sleeping for days at a time. His speech became so fast that his girlfriend remarked on it.

Not long after, Hill was diagnosed as bipolar. Other medications followed, including one, Seroquel, that caused him to oversleep, making him late for his job at Moody Air Force Base. As doctors sought to find the right mix of medications that would stabilize Hill, he was forced to miss more and more work on the base. Hill had been described in his medical evaluation as a “sharp airman [who] is well-liked in his unit.” But the diagnosis—and the work he was missing as a result—ultimately made him a liability in the eyes of the military. “His absences from work impair our ability to properly forecast and schedule munitions production and inspections,” wrote his commander. “My recommendation is the member be separated from the USAF—no retraining.” Effective June 28, 2013, Hill was medically retired from the Air Force.

Outside the leasing office, on the second-floor landing, Pedro Castillo told Hill to go home. Hill had slumped to the floor and “kept saying things like, ‘The devil is coming’ and ‘I love you, Mommy.’”

“Where do I live?” Hill asked him.

“You live right there,” Castillo said, and pointed to Hill’s balcony just a few dozen feet away. Hill seemed to understand and left. With Hill gone, Castillo and Hechavarria went into the office, joining Torres and Rodriguez. But then, just a few minutes later, Castillo looked out through the blinds of the office window toward Hill’s balcony, and there he was—now completely naked. Hill climbed over his balcony railing, lowering himself gingerly to the ground-level patio. He set off in direction of the playground but then stopped to sit in the dirt, drawing his knees up toward his shoulders. For a second, he picked at his bare feet. Then, he lowered his head as if studying the ground between his legs.

You can see all this in a brief video that Hechavarria shot on his cellphone from the office that day. This is one of at least four that track the moments before and after Olsen’s encounter with Hill. A second video, also shot from the office, captured him seconds later on the playground, crouching in the dirt, like he’d seen a wild animal and didn’t want to spook it. Then, it appeared he was doing child’s pose in yoga, his face on the ground, he knees pulled up under his chest. After several seconds, he got up and walked calmly through the playground, past a trash can, past a slide, past a faded red bench. In the video, you can hear Torres on the phone again with 911. “The guy is walking naked all around the community,” she’s saying. The police still had not arrived. Just then, Hill’s gait changed, from an unaffected stride to something his fiancée would later describe to WSB-TV as “walking like a caveman.” He seemed to plod, his feet splayed, his knees bent at an exaggerated angle with each step.

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
The Heights at Chamblee after the shooting, which occurred in the parking lot pictured at the top of the photo.

Photograph by Ben Gray/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Torres asked Castillo and Hechavarria to follow Hill. “Guard him until the DeKalb police or whoever they are going to send will come.” Hill was continuing to talk to himself. He crouched in the gap between two of the buildings. Castillo and Hechavarria watched.

Minutes, perhaps seconds, later, Olsen pulled into the main entrance of the Heights at Chamblee. It was 1:19 p.m. On the way, he’d received updates from dispatch. First, that Torres had requested he hurry. Then, that the subject had “removed all his clothing.”

In a statement he’d later make to a grand jury, Olsen described what was going through his mind as he drove toward the Heights, a place he’d been to before. He knew children lived there. “I didn’t know if any of the children were in danger or if anybody else was in danger in the complex or not. But that was certainly something I was considering.”

Olsen went on: Dispatch had told him “about a person being naked and acting bizarrely,” which caused him to “be more mindful of my surroundings and to think about my training, about the dangers of encounters or confrontations with those that are doing drugs or have a mental disorder, a psychotic break. I was not scared, but I was on high alert.

“Also, the fact that he was reported to be naked was particularly important to me based on my training. I know from my training that when people are in a state like this, excited delirium or high on PCP or having a psychotic mental break, they often disrobe and become naked. I also know from my training that they can be impervious to pain. They are very dangerous individuals. They act irrationally and can exhibit superhuman strength when encountered.”

The phrase “excited delirium” was coined in the mid-1980s to describe a constellation of symptoms typically associated with a combination of mental illness and illicit drug use. In other words, it’s not a disease but a syndrome. Doctors can’t test for excited delirium. It is not mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders 5. Nor is it recognized by the American Medical Association. But police officers nationwide are trained on it, and in DeKalb County, a one-hour course on excited delirium taught to police officers references a 2009 white paper by the American College of Emergency Physicians.

“Excited delirium subjects are known to be irrational, often violent and relatively impervious to pain,” the white paper explains. “Unfortunately, almost everything taught to LEOs [law enforcement officers] about control of subjects relies on a suspect to be rational, appropriate, or to comply with painful stimuli. Tools and tactics available to LEOs (such as pepper spray, impact batons, joint lock maneuvers, punches and kicks, and [Tasers]) that are traditionally effective in controlling resisting subjects are likely to be less effective on [excited delirium] subjects. When methods such as pain compliance maneuvers or tools of force fail, the LEO is left with few options.”

Last year, the Virginian-Pilot newspaper found 18 cases nationwide of in-custody deaths that were blamed on excited delirium. In each of the deaths, some type of restraint was being used on the inmate.

The ACLU has called excited delirium a “convenient way [for police] to point the finger away from themselves and away from inconvenient truths about our criminal justice system.”

The Heights community is laid out in two L shapes, one L tucked into the other. The outside L consists of five buildings; the inside L, two buildings. Between each apartment building is a gap of about 25 feet, and as Olsen drove down one parking lot, he looked to his left through a gap and saw Hill, crouching naked. Olsen’s plan, as he described it to the grand jury, was to “approach [Hill] slowly and not drive right up on him . . . to keep a distance . . . and engage him in dialogue.”

The anatomy of a police shooting: Anthony Hill
      Olsen entered the complex from Chamblee Tucker Road and first saw Anthony Hill through the gap between two apartment buildings.
      Initial position of Anthony Hill when Olsen first saw him
      Where Olsen stopped his patrol car, and where he shot Hill
      Vantage point of Miguel Medina
      Vantage point of Pedro Castillo
      Office

Behind Olsen was a truck driven by Miguel Medina, a resident at the Heights. Medina has two children, and on the playground, he’d occasionally see Hill exercising, wearing a big set of earphones, singing softly.

When Olsen paused to look to his left and spotted Hill, Medina did, too. “I thought, well, that’s the problem,” Medina said in a deposition. “I’m going to go see how the police officer resolves this problem.” Keeping a distance of about 16 feet from the police car, Medina followed Olsen down the parking lot and around the curve that would bring them both into Hill’s view.

Accounts about what happened in the next 10 or 12 seconds differ slightly. Both Olsen and Medina say that as soon as Hill saw Olsen’s police car, he sprang to his feet and started running toward the car, closing the distance of about 150 feet. How fast? Olsen has described it as “sprinting,” while Medina called it “not running really fast.” Hill’s physique stuck in Olsen’s mind. “I’m thinking, ‘This guy is big. This guy looks like—he’s muscular, looks like a football player kind of build,’” he told GBI investigators. “When he was running, I saw the muscles pumping and his quadriceps through his legs were visible.” Castillo, who was standing about midway between where Hill had been crouching and where Olsen had stopped his car, described Hill as running toward Olsen with his arms above his head. But Medina said that Hill’s arms were never above his head.

If Hill was running with his arms above his head, might they have been a gesture of surrender? Or aggression? To Castillo, it looked like Hill had “tried to attack” Olsen, a characterization that Olsen has repeated consistently. (“He was attacking me,” Olsen told the grand jury. “I believe he was coming to hurt me. He was going to drive me back and head-first into the pavement and possibly take my gun.”) But it’s also relevant to note that Hill, who’d interned with his hometown police department as a teenager, had no arrest record. What’s more, three days before his death—and less than a year after the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the police shooting death of an unarmed black teenager named Michael Brown—Hill, himself a black man, had come out on Facebook in defense of police: “The key thing to remember is, #blacklivesmatter, ABSOLUTELY, but not more so than any other life.”

Olsen put his car in park. A leftie, Olsen wore his gun, a Smith & Wesson M&P .40 caliber pistol, on his left hip. He said that, while he was getting out, a move that required him to pull the door latch twice to unlock it, he briefly took his eyes off of Hill. By the time Olsen got out, Hill had reached the front of his car. By that point, Castillo has said, Hill’s arms were down, his palms facing backward.

At various times, Castillo has provided differing, and sometimes contradictory, recollections. For instance, in court last year, Castillo said yes when asked if he’d walked Hill back to his apartment from the leasing office. Minutes later, he testified that Hill went by himself. In describing Hill to police just hours after the shooting, he estimated Hill to be 6 feet tall and 200 pounds. In a deposition almost three years later, he said Hill “wasn’t too tall. He was, like, five-eight, five-nine.” (Hill was 5 foot 9 and weighed 165 pounds.) To investigators after the shooting, he recalled Olsen telling Hill to stop “more than 10 times.” In subsequent descriptions, he said it was twice. Olsen himself said he yelled stop twice. Castillo is also the only witness to describe Hill as “laughing” while he ran toward the officer.

Everyone agrees that while his gun was trained on Hill, Olsen was backpedaling around the back of his car. “He continued charging directly at me,” Olsen told the grand jury. In his deposition, Castillo said Hill was still running at Hill “a little slower.” Castillo was asked if Hill ever slowed to a walk. “Yes. . . . As the police officer was walking backwards, [Hill] was walking going forward. . . . He was walking at the same rhythm that the police officer was.”

How long did all of this take? From the time when Olsen first pointed his gun at Hill to when he fired it twice was likely a matter of just four or five seconds. When the bullets tore into Hill—in his neck, and in his chest, just below his “Be sensible” tattoo—he was so close to Olsen that blood spatter ended up on the officer’s uniform.

In a deposition, an attorney asked Castillo what happened in the moments after Olsen shot Hill. “I only saw that he laid him down on the street, and he needed our help.”

“The officer needed your help?”

“Yes. He told us, ‘Help me. Help me.’”

Last year, prosecutors in Richmond, Virginia, declined to press charges against an officer who shot and killed an unarmed naked man who was running toward him. The May 2018 shooting was captured on the officer’s body-cam and showed 24-year-old Marcus-David Peters walking toward the officer, Michael Nyantakyi, whose Taser is drawn on Peters. As Peters gets closer, he’s heard exclaiming, “Back the f—k up! Put the Taser down, or I’ll kill you!” With Peters roughly eight feet away, Nyantakyi fired his Taser, but one of the prongs missed Peters, who kept coming. Nyantakyi pulled out his gun, firing twice. Peters died later that evening. Three months later, prosecutors determined that the shooting was a “justifiable homicide.”

In the shooting of Anthony Hill, Olsen, who was not wearing a body-cam, never drew his Taser. He said that when he got out of his car, Hill was too close to him and so there wasn’t time for the Taser. And since he was backpedaling as Hill kept advancing, Olsen said, he could not have mustered enough momentum with his baton to stop Hill. Pepper spray also wouldn’t have worked, he insisted; even if there was time to deploy it, Hill was so close that Olsen may have been incapacitated, too.

“My training led me to react the way I did.”

Olsen explained this to a DeKalb County grand jury on January 21, 2016. He spoke for 20 minutes, at the end of eight hours of testimony from other witnesses. “My training,” he said, “led me to react the way I did.” Olsen was not cross-examined, because Georgia law at the time (it has since changed) allowed police officers to make their cases to grand juries without permitting prosecutors any rebuttal or follow-up questions. Nevertheless, the grand jury indicted Olsen on six counts, including felony murder and aggravated assault.

Olsen’s indictment marked only the second time between 2010 and 2016—a time period that included 187 fatal shootings, according to an Atlanta Journal-Constitution investigation—that a Georgia cop was prosecuted for a fatal on-duty shooting. Nationwide, from 2005 through June 2019, 104 nonfederal law-enforcement officers have been charged with murder or manslaughter as the result of an on-duty shooting; of the 80 cases that have been resolved, 35 ended in convictions, according to an analysis conducted by the Police Integrity Research Group at Bowling Green State University.

“It’s an unconscionable decision that the district attorney has made to seek a murder conviction here,” Don Samuel, one of Olsen’s attorneys, said in an interview. “I feel more strongly about it than many other people, even on our side. There was no reason for the D.A. to seek a life sentence as if [Olsen] had this malicious response. Look at all the cases around the country. Nobody ever gets prosecuted in a situation like this.”

“Stepping out of the car and shooting the individual was excessive.”

Four days after he was indicted, Olsen resigned from the DeKalb police department. It was that or be fired. An internal review board determined that Olsen had used excessive force in his encounter with Hill. “Stepping out of the car and shooting the individual was excessive,” William Wallace, the DeKalb Police commander of internal affairs, said. Wallace listed all the less-lethal options Olsen had at his disposal—pepper spray, a baton, a Taser, his own hands, his communication skills, and his own car, with its windows and locking doors. Using his gun, Wallace said, “wasn’t the necessary amount of force to accomplish that law-enforcement goal or to make an arrest.”

Wallace’s remarks are part of a deposition in a federal lawsuit filed by Hill’s parents, Carolyn Giummo and Anthony Hill Sr., against DeKalb County and Olsen, alleging the wrongful death of their son. Beyond the specific allegations—that Olsen was insufficiently trained, that DeKalb County was ill-equipped to respond appropriately to the call, that Hill suffered and died as a result—the lawsuit puts Hill’s death into a larger context of how society has neglected the mentally ill. The nationwide deinstitutionalization of the mentally ill meant that “by 2010 there were only about 14 psychiatric beds per 100,000 people, the same ratio as in 1850,” the lawsuit notes. That, combined with the increasing number of combat veterans in DeKalb County who need mental health care, has meant that DeKalb County cops are “more likely than not the first responders to situations involving mentally disturbed . . . individuals.” Seen in this light, the lawsuit seems to argue, a death such as Hill’s was almost an inevitability.

But in June, Judge Timothy C. Batten Sr. dismissed the claims against DeKalb County, ruling that there’s nothing in the county’s training of its officers about excited delirium that could be considered the “moving force” behind Hill’s death. Batten pointed out that Olsen also took a 40-hour optional course called “Crisis Intervention Team” training, designed to help officers better respond to mental-health crisis calls. Still, the lawsuit against Olsen remains. Giummo declined to comment for this story, saying she did not want to interfere with Olsen’s criminal trial, which is set to begin September 23.

Olsen had hoped to avoid the criminal trial by arguing that, because he believed he was in fear for his life, he could claim immunity from prosecution. But after a two-day hearing in May 2018—likely a preview of the upcoming criminal trial—DeKalb County Judge J.P. Boulee ruled that Olsen failed to show that deadly force was necessary. “Any belief by [Olsen] that Hill was about to kill him and that deadly force was necessary to prevent the killing was not reasonable.”

Perhaps no testimony in Olsen’s murder trial will be as consequential as that of DeKalb Police Officer Lyn Anderson, who was the first backup that day to arrive on the scene. After he was shot, Hill had fallen face-first onto the pavement. “He attacked me,” Olsen told dispatch, according to audio of the transmission. A third video shows Olsen rushing to his driver’s-side door and popping the trunk release. Olsen told state investigators that he was getting his first-aid kit from the trunk, then went back to his car for his rubber gloves. He turned Hill onto his back. “I saw no respirations,” he told state police. “I checked for carotid pulse. I found none. The subject uttered a death rattle. I took off my gloves and at that time attempted to detain any witnesses.”

In a fourth video, this one shot by a resident from a second-floor balcony overlooking the scene, Olsen is seen crouching over Hill’s body, a pool of blood staining the pavement. Olsen brought his finger to Hill’s neck, presumably looking for a pulse. He waved his other hand toward witnesses, trying to keep them back. It’s hard to hear what Olsen is saying over the sound of a yapping dog, the approaching sirens, and the chatter of the residents shooting the video, but one question he asked is clearly audible: “Did you see what happened?” He directed the potential witnesses to sit down apart from one another.

Then Anderson pulled up. Olsen crouched again and motioned toward Hill’s body, the dead man’s torso covered in blood, his feet crossed at the ankle, one arm stretched to the side, his hand resting in a puddle of bright red.

At Olsen’s immunity hearing, Anderson testified that Olsen told him Hill came running toward Olsen “and started pounding on him.” Anderson referenced how Olsen had pantomimed what Hill had done. And indeed, in the video shot from the balcony, Olsen can be seen taking a step toward Anderson and twice raising his gloved fists in the air.

Said Anderson, “I was expecting to hear [Olsen] say that there was some type of weapon that was going to be used, whether it’s a stick or something that he came toward him with.”

For all his detailed recollection of what happened that afternoon, Olsen has said he has no memory of talking with Anderson at all. He has agreed that Hill never touched him.

“I did not intentionally lie to Officer Anderson,” Olsen told the grand jury. “I had no reason to lie to him. . . . I can’t imagine why I would have told him he banged on my chest because that’s not what Mr. Hill was doing. I certainly figured he was going to do a lot more to me than pound on my chest if he had tackled me.”

After her husband was indicted, Kathy Olsen recalled, “I basically had anxiety 24/7.” The entire experience—the indictment, the public outcry that brought protesters to the street, the prospect of a conviction—is “not an experience you can ever anticipate, or even know how to react,” she said. Both she and her husband are in therapy. They have kept their son in the dark about the shooting. “We have not told him anything about it,” she said. “We’re going to have to tell him something soon.”

The day that Anthony Hill died was his three-year anniversary with his fiancée, Bridget Anderson (no relation to Officer Anderson). She declined to comment for this story, citing Olsen’s upcoming trial, but on the day of Hill’s death, she told state police that he had stopped taking his medication about 10 days earlier. He found the side effects were too unpleasant, she said. She had noticed a change in Hill. For instance, Bridget Anderson described Hill as the “grammar police,” always texting in complete sentences. But that morning his texts had been fragments and, occasionally, nonsensical. In one text, he referenced “singing roaches.” Still, Anderson had never seen Hill act anywhere near as oddly as what she would see on witness videos. In the audio statement, Anderson alternates between sobs of grief and flashes of anger. “Why couldn’t they have tackled him instead of shot him?”

A month after the shooting, Anderson told the Guardian that Hill had sought help from the VA hospital but encountered hours-long wait times on the phone and VA staffers who tried to schedule appointments for him in other states. He self-medicated, she told the Guardian, with marijuana. “It helped to relax him, it helped slow down his speech, and helped him to sleep, because he did suffer from a lot of severe insomnia at times.”

Hill died in DeKalb County, which was the first county in the state to offer a mobile crisis team to respond to mental-health calls. Each team consists of a registered nurse and a police officer, who together respond to calls and evaluate the best next step for the patient and the people nearby. Where was the unit on the day Hill was shot? Out of service. Its shift didn’t start until 2 p.m.—40 minutes after Hill was shot dead.

This article appears in our October 2019 issue.

After Atlanta icon Herman Russell died, DNA proved Joycelyn Alston is a daughter he never knew. That’s when things got complicated.

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JOYCELYN ALSTON IN HER BRONX HOME / PHOTOGRAPH BY ANDREA FREMIOTTI

In 1983, when she was 24 and living in Washington, D.C., Joycelyn Darby Alston got a phone call from her mother, Veray, who said she’d be coming to town for a visit. There was something she needed to tell her daughter, and it was best done in person. Veray Darby lived with her husband, Richard, in the northeast Bronx, where they had raised Joyce and her three brothers in a narrow brick house that came with an inviting bay window and a $258 monthly mortgage.

As the only daughter in the Darby household, Joyce had held her own. She volunteered for pickup football games and played center on her high school basketball team. It helped that she was taller than her brothers. At home, when their parents were at work—Veray as a schoolteacher, Richard as a youth counselor—Joyce would also cook for the boys. After high school, she moved to Washington, D.C., for college, working at IHOP to help pay her tuition. Washington was both new and familiar to Joyce; she’d been born there, and two of her mother’s sisters still lived there. In fact, on the day that her mother came to visit, Joyce was living with one of her aunts and working at a department store.

When Joyce first saw her mother and the look on her face, she worried something had happened to her father. “Is Dad sick?” she asked. No, her mother said.

“Your father is not your father,” Veray told her.

Joyce didn’t understand. Was their marriage in trouble?

“No,” Veray said. Richard knew why his wife had made this trip. In fact, he had given it his blessing.

Joyce’s biological father, Veray explained, was someone else. She mentioned the man’s name, but it meant nothing to Joyce. “You could not sit there and tell me that Dad is not my dad,” she recalls today, from the kitchen table in the same Bronx home where she grew up and where she now lives, once again, with her mother, who’s 89.

To Joyce, her parents’ life together had—up until that day in 1983 when her mother visited her—seemed as conventional as any other couple’s in their working-class neighborhood. Richard doted on his only daughter, and encouraged his sons to keep a close eye on any boy who dared to date Joyce. When money was tight, Richard took on weekend work selling door-to-door. Indeed, it was while he was a Fuller Brush traveling salesman that he’d first met Veray back in the late 1950s. This was in Atlanta, where Veray had grown up, attending the Allen Temple A.M.E. Church in Summerhill. Richard Darby eventually proposed to Veray, marrying her in 1959, and the young couple settled down in Washington before ultimately moving to the Bronx.

But now the identity that had defined Joyce’s life—as the only daughter of Veray and Richard Darby—was crumbling.

“I was angry,” Joyce recalls. “I was bitter. Yeah. It was almost like, ‘You’re hurting Dad, you’re not hurting me. I’m not getting any benefit out of this. So why are you doing this to him?’” Her mother had wept. “Why now?” Joyce asked.

“It’s time,” Veray replied. “I’m tired of carrying this burden.” The burden would now be Joyce’s. “Okay,” Joyce said. “Then who the hell is Herman Russell?”

By any measure, the life of Herman J. Russell was astounding. Born into poverty, the youngest of eight children, he was an entrepreneurial prodigy. At eight, he had his own paper route. At 11, he joined his father on job sites, where Rogers Russell was a master plasterer. Young Herman mixed sand and cement to make mortar. At 12, he opened a shoeshine stand across the street from his childhood home at 776 Martin Street in Summerhill. (The stand was on city-owned land, and when the racist aldermen laughed the young man with the speech impediment out of City Hall after he asked permission to do business on the parcel, Russell opened the stand anyway.) Within a month, he was subcontracting—hiring a friend to also shine shoes, and taking a nickel off the top, half the amount Russell charged his customers. On a typical day, Russell would go home with $10 in his pocket, more than the average wage of the adults around him. And he took to heart his father’s advice: “Son, if you don’t make but 50 cents, save a portion of it.”

“An ugly fiction in the South was that black folks were lazy, that black folks didn’t want to work,” Russell wrote in his autobiography, Building Atlanta, which was published in 2014, the year he died. “I can’t imagine where that came from, because all we did was work, from can’t-see-in-the-morning until can’t-see-at-night, as the saying goes. The willingness to work, to be responsible for yourself as long as your body and mind were sound enough, was an important element of self-respect for black people.”

When Herman was 14, his father bought him his own set of tools, envisioning his son would follow in his footsteps. Rogers Russell was correct, but it’s doubtful that even he would have imagined how far his youngest child would go. At 16, with money he’d saved from the shoeshine stand and from helping his father, Herman paid $125 in cash for a vacant lot in Summerhill. With help from friends, and working on it in his spare time from school, Russell built a duplex on the parcel, using his savings to pay for the raw material. One day, a year after the house was complete, a stranger approached Russell to inform him that the young man had accidentally built the house on his property, and not on Russell’s, which was actually next door. The stranger laid out the paperwork to prove his case. Russell was mortified. At a loss, he suggested to the man that they simply switch lots. To Russell’s relief, the man agreed.

“I had not paid attention to important details,” Russell wrote. “I vowed that would never happen again.”

Herman Russell
Russell at a construction site in 1983

Lanna Swindler/AP

When he was 28, Herman Russell’s mother, Maggie, died. His father followed soon after. Rogers Russell’s thrift was borne out by his estate, which contained $12,000 in savings, an astounding amount then for a blue-collar worker with eight children. His will provided for only some of his children, since he’d written it in 1920, before his younger children, including Herman, were born. If Herman Russell felt any offense at his father’s oversight, he made no mention of it in his autobiography.

By then he likely didn’t need his father’s money anyway; six years earlier, his father had turned over his plastering business to Herman, who’d set to work immediately expanding it. H.J. Russell Plastering Company did work for general contractors across Atlanta, while also buying and building more rental units. The company grew so fast that Russell built his own headquarters in Castleberry Hill, complete with a gas pump out front for the company’s fleet of vehicles. In 1956, after a three-year courtship, Herman married Otelia Hackney, who’d grown up in Taliaferro County, midway between Atlanta and Augusta. Like Herman, Otelia was one of eight children. And like Herman, she was also strong-willed. When her friends suggested that Herman’s stammer should rule him out as a husband, Otelia was undeterred. “As long as I can understand him,” she replied, “don’t you worry about it.”

Russell used his speech impediment to his advantage, recalls Ambassador Andrew Young, who first met the builder not long after moving to Atlanta in 1961. “It made you reach out to him,” Young says. “It was almost like it was so hard for him to talk sometimes that you wanted to help him talk. What most people thought was a negative he turned into a positive.”

In 1959, the same year as his mother’s death, Herman and Otelia Russell welcomed their first child, Donata. Two boys—Jerome and Michael—followed. But it wasn’t until 2015 that the three siblings would learn they had another sister, older than all of them.

After Veray Darby told Joyce about her biological father, Joyce spoke with no one about it, except for a cousin. She didn’t tell her brothers. She didn’t discuss it further with her mother. She never mentioned it to Richard Darby, the man who raised her and whom she still saw as her father. She didn’t bring it up, nor did he. (In 1991, Richard Darby died of an aneurysm.) She never even told the man she’d marry.

Herman Russell: Joyce Alston
Veray and Richard Darby’s wedding photo from 1959

Photograph by Andrea Fremiotti

But at some point—Joyce estimates it was within a year of hearing the news in 1983—she wrote Herman Russell a letter. She was not sure what to say, and recalls discarding draft after draft. She settled finally on something brief—her name, her mother’s maiden name (Campbell), her aunts’ names, where the Campbell girls had grown up in Summerhill. Veray, a year older than Herman, was raised just a few blocks from the Rogers Russell house on Martin Street. The Campbell family and the Russell family also attended the same church, Allen Temple A.M.E. In the letter, Joyce remembers writing, “If you want to reach out to me, here’s my number.” She addressed the letter to the H.J. Russell Company in Atlanta and dropped it in the mail. She says she knew practically nothing about Russell or of his ever-growing stature.

What was she hoping for? “Just to get to know who [Russell] was,” she says. “‘Who are you? What do you look like? What do you do? What’s your favorite color? Who are you as a human being?’ And probably also, ‘Why?’ No matter what age you are—you could be 10, you could be 80—that information still stings.”

We live now in an age of websites that can populate your family tree going back generations. DNA tests can not only trace your lineage, but can predict with remarkable accuracy traits as banal as whether you’ll like the taste of cilantro, or whether your index finger is longer than your ring finger. All of these developments are in service to a fundamental human need—the need for connection, to know where you’re from. But 35 years ago, the best option Joyce had was the mail. She waited for a response. It never came. She sent a second letter. Again, nothing.

Herman Russell
Russell, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Ralph David Abernathy, and Andrew Young in Russell’s home on Shorter Terrace. King and others would often go for swims in Russell’s pool

Photograph by Noel Davis/AP

At the time she sent the letters, in the mid-1980s, Herman Russell had become one of the most prominent black businessmen in the nation, overseeing a vast empire of real estate and construction interests, as well as airport concessions. On its way to becoming the largest Minority Business Enterprise real estate firm in the country, the Russell company amassed vast holdings, much of it Section 8 housing that the company would not only build but manage. In the 1960s, Russell had used his growing fortune to help fund the civil rights movement, bailing protesters out of jail. The Russell home on Shorter Terrace became a retreat for the leaders of the movement; Young and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. would occasionally stop by for a swim in Russell’s pool.

Russell was a tireless networker and political kingmaker, helping persuade Young to run for Congress in 1970. “Herman integrated my life in Atlanta,” Young says. “I had been almost totally aligned with the civil rights movement, and so all that the white community saw of me were stories in the papers from Birmingham, Selma, or someplace. They had no way of knowing me personally. Herman called me up one day and said, ‘I want you to come with me,’ and he took me to meet John Portman and Charlie Loudermilk. And they became my friends and supporters.”

Russell himself became an Atlanta icon. He helped bail out Grady Hospital. He contributed toward a fund that ensured that a trove of King’s private papers would stay in Atlanta and not be auctioned off. He established his own foundation. He became an informal adviser to politicians. He grew wealthy in ways he likely had never dreamed.

After her letters to Herman Russell went unacknowledged, Joyce went on with her life. She married in 1984, taking her husband’s name—Alston. They had their son, Antonio, in 1986. Joyce’s husband was an Army doctor, so the young family’s life together was spent on the move: Seattle, South Korea, Boston. In 1999, she and her husband divorced. She had managed to push the story of her biological father from her mind, but still, she says, “it always sticks with you.” Today, she describes the unanswered questions about her lineage as an “open wound.”

Herman Russell: Joyce Alston
Joyce Alston with her son, Antonio, in the Bronx home she shares with her mother, Veray.

Photograph by Andrea Fremiotti

“I could tell myself, ‘I’ll just keep living a good life,’ but that wound was always opening,” she says. “It never healed correctly. And when a wound doesn’t heal correctly, it leaves a scar.”

About five years ago, Veray Darby fell ill—so ill she was in intensive care. With her mother’s survival by no means assured, Joyce, who describes herself as very religious, began making promises to God. One of them was that if her mother survived, Joyce would try again to reach out to her biological father. By this point, Joyce’s curiosity was more than just academic; half her medical history, she realized, was unknown. Likewise, a quarter of her son’s medical history was a blank slate.

“I could tell myself, ‘I’ll just keep living a good life,’ but that wound was always opening.”

“I had a family line that I wanted to know,” she says. With Antonio now a young man, she felt it was important for him to know, too.

She called her cousin in Atlanta to discuss how to reach out, once again, to Russell. But she was too late. On November 15, 2014, Herman Russell had died.

“I beat myself up,” Joyce says. “I just missed him.” The questions she had imagined for so many years asking him—simple things such as his favorite food, or if he got into trouble as a kid—she could never ask.

Joyce had a choice: She could resume her life, or press on. Russell’s three children were very much alive. These were her siblings. Even though Russell himself was gone, perhaps she could come to know him a bit through them. “Whether they would receive me or not, I didn’t know,” she says. “But I wanted to meet them.”

In April 2015, Joyce retained the Atlanta fiduciary law firm of Gaslowitz Frankel to reach out to the Russells on her behalf. It made sense to her; after all, writing letters had yielded nothing. For her attorneys, the first priority was examining the plausibility of Joyce’s claim. Could she really be a daughter of Herman Russell? They interviewed her, her mother, and other relatives. The following narrative emerged:

In early 1958, Herman’s mother and Veray’s aunt were each ill and being treated at Grady Hospital. After her shift at the beauty parlor one day, Veray, then 28 and single, went to visit her aunt at Grady. At the hospital, she ran into Herman, a neighbor and friend she’d known since childhood. He offered her a ride home. One thing led to another.

Soon after realizing she was pregnant, Veray went to inform Russell. They agreed to meet at a bus stop. “We had a brief conversation about the pregnancy,” Veray Darby says, though she cannot recall the details of it. She does remember that before the two parted ways, Russell gave her a $50 bill. Not long after, Veray moved to Washington, D.C., where her sisters lived and where she reconnected with Richard Darby, whom she married after Joyce was born in December 1958. Although she visited Atlanta often in the ensuing years, Veray never again called the city home. She didn’t seek child support from Russell. During visits to Atlanta, she recalls, she would occasionally see Russell at church, but the two didn’t talk. At some point after Joyce’s birth, Veray says, she wrote Russell a letter. But, as with her daughter’s attempts years later, Veray never heard back.

In the summer of 2015, Joyce’s lawyers reached out to attorneys for the Russell siblings, informing them that their client claimed to be a child of Herman Russell. Not surprisingly, the Russells demanded a DNA test. For Joyce, the negotiations over the DNA test—who would pay, that the results must remain confidential, that her mother would also have to submit a sample—left her feeling marginalized, further distanced from the siblings she had yet to meet. Until then, Joyce had intentionally not researched much about the life of her biological father. Yes, she knew he was successful, but the way that the process was unfolding between lawyers on both sides led her to conclude that Herman Russell had not just been well-off, but wealthy. “I thought, ‘Am I entitled to something?’” she recalls.

In April 2016, the results came back, showing with 99.98 percent certainty that Joyce is Herman Russell’s daughter.

“In a case like this, most of the time, the critical issue is whether or not there is paternity,” says Craig Frankel, Joyce’s attorney. “Once you’ve established that there is a biological connection, the next issue is what share do you get?”

The question may seem straightforward, but as Joyce would find, nothing complicates family matters more than money.

In the fall of 2016, two years after Herman Russell’s death, Joyce traveled to Atlanta to meet the three siblings she’d never known. Half-siblings, technically, but as Joyce explains it, the family in which she had grown up made no such distinctions. You either were family, or you weren’t. And the Russells—Donata, Jerome, and Michael—were, indisputably.

“Two sisters, born just months apart almost 60 years earlier, were face to face for the first time.”

Confidentiality had been central to the discussions to this point. According to terms agreed to by both sides, Joyce and the Russells could discuss the matter with no one but each other.

“If they’re truly Herman Russell’s kids,” Veray had told her daughter before Joyce left for Atlanta, “they will receive you with open arms and love you.” At the hotel lounge where they had planned to meet, Joyce wasn’t sure whom to look for, but then a woman approached and said, “Are you Joycelyn?” It was Donata. They shook hands and sat down. Two sisters, born just months apart almost 60 years earlier, were face to face for the first time. Soon Michael arrived, and he immediately hugged Joyce. (Jerome was out of town.)

“We laughed, we talked about our kids, our careers,” Joyce says. “They told me a little about Herman Russell, what kind of father he was. We must have sat in that bar for two hours. We had a good time.” Joyce and Donata discussed their shared love of wine, and afterward, when Joyce went to walk back to her hotel, Donata insisted on giving her a ride.

Later, Joyce called her mother to tell her how it went. “She cried,” Joyce says. “She was so overjoyed. She was so thankful. She just kept saying, ‘Thank you, Lord Jesus.’”

In their only public comments on the matter, to the Atlanta Business Chronicle last September, the Russell siblings said they were curious to meet Joyce. “We were open to getting to know her,” Michael Russell said. Through a spokesman, the family declined to comment for this story.

For one of Atlanta’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, Herman Russell kept his will short—just seven pages. There were no specific dollar amounts left to friends or family members, no special bequests of sentimental items. He requested to be buried next to Otelia, who had predeceased him in 2006. (In the years after Otelia’s death, he married Sylvia Anderson, then the president of AT&T Georgia.) Beyond naming his executors, Russell did just two things in his will. First, he defined his descendants, specifying that “my only children” were Donata, Michael, and Jerome. Second, he gave “all of the residue and remainder of my estate” to a trust he’d established before his death.

Every deceased person’s assets are divided into two categories—probate and nonprobate. Items owned solely by the decedent—a car, say, or the cash in an individual bank account—go through probate, the disposition of which is overseen by probate court, according to the wishes outlined in the will. But a vast catalog of holdings bypasses probate. These items—called nonprobate assets—include life insurance proceeds, retirement accounts, jointly-held real estate. They also include trusts.

As Frankel would find out, Russell had left “precious few assets” in his probate estate. The “lion’s share,” as he put it in court documents, were nonprobate assets, some of which Russell had transferred to his three children during his lifetime. A fundamental question now was whether Joyce Alston, a biological child, was entitled to a share of these assets. Georgia law is unclear, Frankel says. The advent of DNA testing may have removed any uncertainty when it comes to blood kinship, but the emotional, financial, and legal implications are as murky as ever.

The Georgia Supreme Court has weighed in—at least partially. In 2006, a Hall County native named John Buffington died at 64. Buffington had owned a large farm and had also built up a highway construction company. In his will, he provided for his two daughters and requested that anything left over in his estate pour over to a family trust, the trustees of which were his daughters. Buffington defined his children in the will very specifically—as “only the lawful blood descendants.” A woman named Regina Todd sued in probate court, arguing she deserved a portion of Buffington’s estate. Todd claimed to be Buffington’s biological daughter, the child of an extramarital affair. But in 2010, the Georgia Supreme Court ruled against Todd, pointing in part to Buffington’s use of the word “lawful” in his will. It was “clearly and unambiguously” Buffington’s intent to provide only for his two daughters and not his out-of-wedlock child, the court ruled. In other words, you don’t need to name someone to disinherit them. But two justices dissented, with one, the late Harris Hines, calling the majority ruling a “giant step backwards in the development of the law in regard to the rights of biological children born without the benefit of marriage.”

Buffington had been aware of Todd’s existence, according to the court; he’d named her the beneficiary of two life insurance policies, and was even known to refer to her as “little bastard.” Buffington’s knowledge of Todd, and his deliberate omission of her in his will, was evidence of his intent, the court ruled. But what would have happened if he’d never known about her?


Joyce and the Russell siblings were getting to know each other. On a second trip to Atlanta, Joyce brought 32-year-old Antonio, to whom she’d recently broken the news. “Honestly,” Antonio recalls now, running his hand up his forehead, “the first thing that stuck out to me was, that explains my hairline versus Granddad’s, because his hair was so beautiful. I always wondered what happened to me.”

Herman Russell
Russell, right, with Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, the legendary president of Morehouse College, and Atlanta mayor Sam Massell in 1971

Elissa Eubanks/AP

But as the conversations—between the family members, as well as between the lawyers—turned to money, the good feelings were dissipating. As part of the confidential negotiations, Frankel got to review Herman Russell’s Form 706, an IRS filing that outlined the value of his estate. Frankel also saw details of Russell’s life insurance policies, as well as the details of trusts he established in 1993 and in 2013. Indeed, it is the trusts—and not his will—where the details of his ultimate wishes are unspooled.

As it turned out, Russell had transferred most of his fortune during his lifetime, through a series of complex transactions, to his three children, as Frankel explained at a hearing last July before Fulton County Superior Court Judge Eric Dunaway. Among the transfers of assets that occurred while Russell was alive, Frankel explained in court, were the following:

  • In 1983, Russell put life insurance policies totaling approximately $5 million into a trust, the beneficiaries of which were his three children.
  • In 1993, he transferred $5 million in assets—including many real estate properties—to trusts in his children’s names. Technically speaking, he sold these assets, but the income generated by them—such as rent in Section 8 housing—often exceeded the amount the children needed to pay their father back, Frankel explained.
  • In 2013, Russell transferred majority ownership in his flagship company, as well as Concessions International, to trusts for each of his children, which he funded initially with $2.7 million—or $900,000 for each child, according to Frankel. In exchange, the children issued promissory notes that required no payment until 2020. If Russell died in the interim, the notes would be forgiven. The total value of the assets was roughly $28 million, although Frankel said in court he suspects the true value was closer to $50 million. “In any event,” Frankel told Judge Dunaway, “Mr. Russell did die within that seven-year period and effectively $28 million passed to his three known children at no tax.”

In court the same day, Luke Lantta, an attorney representing the Russell siblings, said Frankel made it sound like the assets were handed over freely as if they were a child’s allowance. “Nothing could be further from the truth,” he said. “Each of the three Russell children had to earn what they received—working, learning the business, and earning their parents’ trust so they could ultimately be entrusted with these assets.” Nevertheless, Lantta said, more than 30 years later, someone else is coming in and trying to claim pieces of what their generation helped build.

“What would that say about his legacy? What does it say about him if he knew all these years that I existed?”

Notwithstanding the transfers Russell made to his three children during his lifetime, which totaled at least $38 million and which were all perfectly allowable under the law, he did not die a pauper. As Frankel explained in court, Russell left $10 million to his second wife. The “residue and remainder” of his estate that he cited in his will included a Midtown condominium, a vacation home on Lake Burton, as well as personal property. All of it went into yet another trust.

Frankel says Russell’s intentions, through estate planning done over decades, were clear: “To give his property, with minimal taxes, to his children.” Frankel estimates that the true value of Russell’s estate was north of $100 million, and could be as high as $200 million.

This is a good time to note that Joycelyn Alston works as an accountant. As a clearer picture of her birth father’s fortune began to emerge, it put into context the settlement offer she got from the Russells in the first days of 2017. The offer was $450,000, to be paid over two years, as well as her choice between a 10 percent interest in the Lake Burton vacation home or $500,000 paid over 10 years into a trust for her and her “lineal descendants,” with Joyce naming the trustee and the trustee paying the taxes. And the settlement was to remain confidential. To Joyce, it was insufficient.

“Just be fair, that’s all I’m saying,” Joyce says, explaining her expectations. “And when I say ‘Be fair,’ I’m not asking for a suitcase full of money. There’s other things. There’s things that can be set up for [Antonio], for my grandkids. There’s education, sitting on the board.” (Jerome Russell is president and executive director of the Herman J. Russell Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, which in 2016 reported $4.9 million in net assets.)

Joyce had imagined being introduced to the extended family, to assimilating, to having a seat at the table, figuratively and otherwise. But, as Frankel explains it, the Russells wanted to keep her existence private. Joyce began to take offense. A phone call she had with her newfound siblings, discussing a possible settlement, didn’t help. No disrespect, Joyce, she recalls one of them saying, but you didn’t earn it.

Joyce says she responded, “I paid my way through college, I raised my son, I’ve done well for myself, I have a good job, I’m well-educated, so I did earn it.”

Joyce is also motivated in part by the thought of her mother, who had never sought any money from Russell. Here was a way to make things right. “Give my mama some back child support—that’s my attitude,” Joyce says.

On the morning of January 9, 2017, Joyce sued the Estate of Herman Russell in Fulton Superior Court, seeking to be declared an heir and asking the court to effectively award her a share of Russell’s nonprobate assets equal to what he gave his three other children. That afternoon, Donata, as co-executor of her father’s estate, sued Joyce in Fulton County Probate Court. The suit acknowledged Joyce was Herman’s biological daughter but requested that the court exclude her from any share of Russell’s estate.

The matter that had been strictly hush-hush had become public record. (Well, not entirely public. Lawyers for the Russell siblings have persuaded the respective judges in both of those courtrooms—Judge Pinkie Toomer in Fulton County Probate Court and Dunaway in Fulton Superior Court—to keep swaths of the cases out of the public eye, effectively turning what are supposed to be open proceedings into closed ones.)

And, with the filing of the lawsuits, communications between Joyce and the Russell siblings ended.

Did Herman Russell know he had fathered a child out of wedlock? In the interview last September with the Atlanta Business Chronicle, the three Russell siblings said they simply didn’t know if their father knew about Joyce. However, their suit against Joyce in probate court asserted that Herman Russell “was aware that he may have biological children” other than Donata, Jerome, and Michael, and that he “chose not to provide for those potential other children in his estate planning documents.” The suit went on to state that when he executed his final will, their father was “aware that Ms. Alston claimed to be his biological child, and he chose not to provide for her in his estate planning documents.”

If the Russell siblings can demonstrate that their father knew about Joyce—after all, both Veray and Joyce said they wrote him letters over the years, though neither ever got a response—then the details would be similar to the Buffington case, and it’s likely Joyce’s case would fail in superior court.

But for the Russells, winning in court could come with unintended consequences. If he’d knowingly fathered a child and didn’t provide for her, the reputation he spent a lifetime building could be called into question. “What would that say about his legacy?” Joyce says. “What does it say about him if he knew all these years that I existed?”

Young, who’s not followed the case closely, says it is incomprehensible that Russell would knowingly turn his back on his own child. “He would never have neglected a child of his,” Young says. “If he had been aware of her, she’d at least have a trust fund and be guaranteed an education. He would never let a child of his not be part of his family.”

Assuming the parties can’t come to a settlement, Frankel believes the court’s ultimate decision will come to be known as the “Russell Doctrine”—whether an unknown heir is entitled to a portion of their deceased parent’s nonprobate estate. Joyce is less interested in making history. She wants what she believes is fair—and still hopes to get to know better the siblings with whom she was only starting to get acquainted.

“It had to be crazy for them,” Joyce says. “I have my own emotions about this, but I’m sure they have theirs, too. It’s like I told my son, I feel like we—me and the Russells—are like the clean-ups; we’re just cleaning up some mess that our parents made. We’re left to do it.”

POSTSCRIPT
On January 9, a week after this story had gone to press for our February 2019 issue, Fulton County Superior Court Judge Eric Dunaway dismissed Joycelyn Alston’s verified petition seeking heirship. He also dismissed Alston’s amended complaint that sought a share of Herman Russell’s estate. Dunaway cited many arguments in making his ruling, including that Georgia law prohibits a claim such as hers, and that the statute of limitations had run out. Dunaway ruled that because Alston is neither a “trustee nor a beneficiary,” she is not entitled to ask that the trusts that Herman Russell set up be terminated. (Read the entire 39-page ruling here.)

Luke Lantta, attorney for the Russell estate, said, “We are pleased that the court reached what we think is the right decision and one that allows everyone to move forward.”

But Craig Frankel, Alston’s attorney, said the legal battle isn’t over yet, and that his client would take her case to the Georgia Court of Appeals.

“I’m disappointed but not surprised that the judge took the safe way out,” Frankel said. “This is a new area of law and [Judge Dunaway] is going to let the appellate courts decide. It’d be a shame if the Georgia courts hold that a biological child of a man who is wealthy has no rights simply because the father had enough money to do estate planning outside of probate.”

The probate case, concerning assets that Russell had outlined in his will, is still pending in Fulton County probate court.

This article appears in our February 2019 issue.

Monday Night Brewing agreed to host a Brian Kemp event. Outraged fans said, “Hold my beer.”

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Monday Night and Georgia Governor Brian KempLate last month, Nathan Humphrey, director of the Georgia chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, went looking for a place to host his group’s endorsement of Republican nominee Brian Kemp for governor. The NFIB represents primarily small businesses, and so it made sense to find a location that embodied a scrappy upstart.

As it turned out, Humphrey used to live around the corner from Monday Night Brewing in northwest Atlanta, where he was once “almost a regular,” as he described it. The owners, he said, “are literally the nicest guys in the industry.” The NFIB was also in the corner of independent brewers when the state finally loosened the draconian regulations that had kept breweries from selling beer directly to consumers. The change in the law has helped usher in a renaissance of small breweries in Georgia, and Monday Night, which celebrated its seventh anniversary this summer, opened a second facility last year on the BeltLine in southwest Atlanta. “They’re good Georgia employers and they’re putting people to work,” said Humphrey, who called the brewery to put in the request.

The brewery owners—Joel Iverson, Jeff Heck, and Jonathan Baker—were conflicted. Baker, for one, wanted to turn down the request, even though the brewery itself wouldn’t be endorsing Kemp, but merely hosting the event. Kemp, after all, was a lightning rod. He’d won the Republican primary against Casey Cagle by tacking far to the right, a move that secured Donald Trump’s endorsement—as well as the fear and loathing of vast swaths of Georgians. In one ad, Kemp boasted that he’d use his truck to “round up criminal illegals.” In another ad, he leveled a shotgun toward a young man who wanted to date Kemp’s daughter. A ProPublica reporter claimed that he heard Kemp tell a room full of donors in 2016 after watching a presidential debate that “Trump should have gone over there and groped her.” Last December, Kemp announced that if he were governor, he’d sign so-called “religious freedom” legislation that would permit businesses to discriminate against customers whose beliefs and lifestyles differed from those of the business owners. (Gov. Nathan Deal twice vetoed similar measures. After the primary, Kemp moved to the center, saying he would veto any legislation that veered from the federal standard.)

Iverson argued that Monday Night should host the event. After all, the brewery’s origins were about inclusion, whether from the left or right. When the three founders had first gotten together to brew beer on Monday nights more than a decade ago, Iverson said, some of his favorite moments were the discussions that would occur among people who held vastly different views. Plus, the brewery had hosted plenty of politicians before, Democrats and Republicans. What’s more, brewery policy was not to endorse candidates anyway (though Iverson has given individually to candidates over the years). So they said yes to the NFIB and to Kemp.

For the event last Wednesday at the brewery’s original location in northwest Atlanta, Humphrey was expecting no more than a couple of reporters. But then the TV cameras came in. The coverage found its way to Twitter, where the reaction was swift.

“Terribly disappointed in @MondayNight,” wrote one user.

“Well this is a gut punch,” wrote another.

“Fuck @MondayNight,” wrote another.

One commenter, Sarah Lawrence, expounded: “Really loved @MondayNight for coming to our neighborhood and getting involved in our community, but crushed they’d host (and benefit from) a fundraiser for a racist, xenophobic candidate. If y’all don’t draw the line there, where will you draw it?”

“We did not fully anticipate how much it would blow back,” Iverson said on Thursday by phone. (For the record, Iverson said, the brewery took no money in exchange for NFIB’s use of its space.) Through social media, Iverson began reaching out. “We were not Kemp supporters, many of our employees are very against him, and we realized there was probably nothing but downside from a PR perspective to having him come here,” Iverson wrote. “But ultimately we decided to do it anyway because we felt it was more consistent with both our purpose as a company, and because we have never refused any politician coming to our facility as a policy.” Iverson went on, in one of his replies, to evoke Monday Night’s origins in homebrewing, when “it was pretty cool to see people having dialogue from a place of learning and curiosity vs. judgment and segregation.”

Iverson told me his biggest concern was the neighbors of their Garage, on the southwest side. He said one neighbor, a person of color, explained his concerns to Iverson this way: “Honestly, it’s not a Republican or a Democrat thing. It’s Kemp. As a person of color who’s not in the majority white culture, when I see someone like Kemp and I see him welcomed at your brewery, then I think maybe I’m not welcome at your brewery.”

Iverson acknowledged he had looked at the Kemp appearance through his own lens, and hadn’t done enough to see it from different perspectives. Iverson has invited those who were dismayed at Kemp’s appearance to the brewery, where the three owners will sit down and hear more about what they could have done differently. “I want us to be a place that is welcoming to everyone,” Iverson said, “but we also have to hear the people in the community around us and hear their concerns.”

Of course, one thing Monday Night could have done differently was say no from the outset. But Iverson’s not sure that, even with hindsight, he’d do that. “How do we engage politics in our business? You could say completely ignore it. But I don’t think that’s an option.”

Monday Night isn’t the only Atlanta business getting grief for wading into political waters. A photo of Joseph Hsiao, a co-owner of two Flying Biscuit Cafe restaurants in Atlanta, hosting Kemp at a Flying Biscuit in 2015 has garnered similar opprobrium on social media, with some even calling for a boycott of the restaurant. (Hsiao and his business also contributed $2,000 to Kemp over the years.) The contribution, Hsiao told Project Q Atlanta in a story published Thursday, was “misconstrued. We’re focused on [Kemp’s] four-point plant to work with small businesses like ours.” And last month, the Atlanta Braves caught grief for co-sponsoring a fundraiser for Kemp.

Of course, Americans vote not just at the polling place but with their dollars—where they spend, and where they choose not to spend. Iverson wonders how far it can go. “If a person says ‘No Monday Night, no Flying Biscuit,’ then who’s next? Probably fifty percent of the businesses in Atlanta have contributed in some capacity to Kemp or to a PAC supporting him.”

Eight days after Kemp’s appearance at Monday Night Brewing, Humphrey was still feeling bad over the unintended consequences for his favorite Atlanta brewers. “If I’d known any of this, I never would have picked the location,” he said. “As a small business, there are just so many liabilities. You have to be scared of your own shadow. You always have to watch your back. You think you’re helping and trying to be nice, and it ends up biting you.”

Update 9/14/18: On Friday morning, after publication of this story, Monday Night Brewing released an official statement of “Our Core Beliefs.”

How far will Atlanta City Hall’s corruption probe go? Only BJay Pak knows.

BJay PakFormer federal prosecutors have a tendency to talk wistfully about their days making cases against bad guys, the full might of the U.S. government behind them.

“You represent the people of the United States,” says BJay Pak, who worked as an assistant U.S. attorney from 2002 to 2008 in the northern district of Georgia, an area that spans 46 counties including metro Atlanta. “We’re about the mission, not the politics. And once you get some discretion and power in making those choices that impact people directly in their lives, there’s great satisfaction in doing good and wearing the white hat.”

But the biggest white hat in any federal district is reserved for the U.S. attorney, who is appointed by the president, confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and answers to the U.S. attorney general. In the northern district of Georgia, the U.S. attorney oversees approximately 105 federal prosecutors and decides what cases they pursue and what cases they leave to local authorities, acting as a kind of supercop—the political appointee who is, in theory anyway, above politics.

“While I am in full agreement that being assistant U.S. attorney is the best job you’ll ever have, being the U.S. attorney might be the most fulfilling and the most enjoyable,” says John Horn, who left the office last fall after 15 years, the last two of which were as U.S. attorney. Horn passed the reins to Pak, a Trump appointee who became the 26th U.S. attorney for the northern district of Georgia, overseeing the very office where he once worked.

“This was my dream job,” Pak says from his sixth floor office at the Richard B. Russell federal building, Mercedes-Benz Stadium looming out the window. Pak’s career path was influenced greatly by the events of 9/11, which he witnessed from his office at Alston & Bird in Atlanta. The panic and terror of that day galvanized him. “When you’re an immigrant”—Pak emigrated from South Korea when he was 9—“you view the United States as invincible,” he says. “You never imagine that somehow it would be shaken to its core.”

BJay Pak

The job as a prosecutor followed 9/11, then three terms as a state representative. As U.S. attorney now, Pak wields a tremendous power, able to marshal vast resources to fight crime. To some degree, he is beholden to Department of Justice priorities—in the Trump administration, violent crime and the opioid epidemic—but beyond those, Pak is free to direct his office as he sees fit. Pak’s own agenda includes fighting cybercrime, healthcare fraud, and public corruption, all areas that are of no surprise to Horn, now a partner at King & Spalding. “I think these are all entirely appropriate,” Horn says.

Every U.S. attorney must be nimble, responding to the evolving nature of crime in their district. For instance, Pak says, half of the violent crime in his office’s 46 counties is gang-related. In addition to homegrown groups, national gangs—such as the Gangster Disciples from Chicago and Crips, Bloods, and their subsets—are increasingly co-opting local gangs, Pak says. Thanks to organized crime statutes, federal courts are especially well-suited to try gang members, Pak says. The nature of the federal prison system, as well, permits authorities to send them thousands of miles away to serve their sentences. “When you remove that person who is directing the violence in that area, it allows that community to heal itself,” he says.

By the numbers

105
Number of prosecutors working under Pak

46
Number of Georgia counties Pak’s office oversees

When it comes to illegal drugs, Pak says the bigger problem in the northern district is not opioids so much as cocaine and methamphetamine. Indeed, opioid-related deaths in Georgia in 2016 numbered 918, a rate of 8.8 deaths per 100,000 persons. Ohio, by contrast, saw 3,613 opioid-related overdoses in 2016, a rate almost four times that of Georgia.

“Methamphetamine is still the number-one trafficked drug in our district,” Pak says. “We have every Mexican drug cartel that has a cell here operating in a wholesale environment.” Today, there is a glut of crystal meth. A kilo with a street value of $25,000 in the mid-2000s now retails for half that. DEA agents have told him meth is so cheap and readily available that dealers are giving free samples away to get users hooked. “Frankly, no one’s really focused on that right now, because the nationwide discussion is focused on opioids.”

The most prominent open investigation Pak inherited from Horn is the longstanding corruption pay-to-play probe at City Hall under the Kasim Reed administration. So far, four defendants have pleaded guilty to various charges, ranging from conspiring to accept bribes (Adam Smith, the city’s former chief procurement officer) to attempting to obstruct a federal investigation (Shandarrick Barnes, a former city employee who threw a brick through a witness’s window and littered rats on the ground outside his home). In April, Reverend Mitzi Bickers pleaded not guilty to an 11-count indictment charging that she took $2 million in bribes to steer city business to at least two contractors.

Reed left office in January, and Pak acknowledges the ongoing investigation represents a cloud over Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s new tenure. The two have not yet met formally, but he says Bottoms’s administration has moved faster than Reed’s in providing documents to the feds. So how long will the investigation take? Pak won’t say. “What I can tell you: It’s not going to last through the entire four years of the administration of Mayor Bottoms.”

Pak is looking to speed up the clock on the City Hall probe and many other cases. But, he says, it’s not about metrics. “What we’re going for is cases that have an impact in the community. I instructed people in our office . . . to be fearless, in the sense of, ‘Don’t fear that you’re going to lose a case.’ If it’s the right case, if it’s a risk that’s worth taking for the community, we need to do it.”

Update 8/15/18: This story has been updated to reflect Katrina Taylor-Parks pleading guilty in federal court to accepting bribes from a city vendor.”

This article appears in our August 2018 issue.

Monday Night Brewing’s 7th anniversary will take two days to celebrate

Monday Night Brewing
The founders of Monday Night Brewing

Photograph by John E. McDonald

It’s a sign of how far Georgia craft beer has come in such a short time that Monday Night Brewing is now a seasoned veteran on the scene. In 2011, when MNB was founded, Georgia craft beer meant little more than SweetWater, Terrapin, and Atlanta Brewing Company. Today, the state boasts dozens of breweries, with more on the way.

Last September, timed to the new law that allows breweries to sell beer direct from their taprooms, Monday Night Brewing opened its expansion facility—called the Garage—just off the BeltLine in southwest Atlanta. Beyond giving the company an increased production capacity, the Garage also put craft beer—a phenomenon with a demographic heavy on white dudes—in the middle of a historically black neighborhood.

As a way to introduce itself to its neighbors, MNB provided free space (and beer) to nonprofits from around the city, hosting 30 events in the first 100 days and raising $280,000 for the organizations. Besides buying goodwill for MNB, the move also got people who’d never had reason to go to southwest Atlanta an opportunity to see the development of 426,000 square feet of warehouses. In the coming months, Wild Heaven Beer will also open a facility there, as well as a new brewery called Banyan Roots, ASW Distillery, and a third location of Hop City, the beer and wine retailer.

MNB is still run by its three cofounders, who famously met and bonded over beer during a Bible study group. Jeff Heck, Jonathan Baker, and Joel Iverson still control 100 percent of the voting shares of the brewery, which from day one has not been known for any one style of beer, but rather a variety.

“Variety” is the key word when it comes to MNB’s seventh anniversary party on August 4 and 5 at the Garage. On both days of the celebration, the brewery is rolling out some serious barrels—not just its core and seasonal beers, such as Han Brolo (which Paste magazine voted the best in a blind test of 151 pale ales from around the nation), but also obscure and one-off beers. So if you want a Piranha Dealer (a strawberry milkshake IPA), or Zhang Zishi (a barrel-aged hefeweizen), or a pineapple and vanilla Champagne IPA, or any of a few dozen others, the party is your best bet. (Sunday is family day; kids 12 and under are free.)

On the eve of the celebration, two of the three founders—Heck and Iverson—discussed how far the brewery has come, what the recent law changes has meant for their business, and what’s coming.

Monday Night Brewing

On its growth
Monday Night Brewing doesn’t disclose production numbers, but Iverson did allow that sales and production are both up between 35 and 40 percent year over year. MNB’s growth is reflected in its headcount—the brewery now employs 85 people, 45 of whom are full-time. And between its two taprooms—off Howell Mill in west Midtown and at the Garage—the brewery expects 170,000 people to visit this year.

“People ask us, ‘Did you ever imagine this?’” Heck said. “To be honest, we kinda did. We knew it was crazy but our goal was always to be about where we are now. What’s exciting to us now is feeling like we’re just at the starting gate. What’s surprising is how much mental energy it takes to make it a good place to work, to make [employees] feel fulfilled, to put them first while at the same time running a business.

“We do quarterly hands-on meetings [with employees]. We talk about the state of business. We’re transparent about our results, our profits, our goals. If you’re a full-time employee, you sign an NDA and we trust you, and we’re going to be completely up-front.”

On rebranding
In September 2017, Monday Night Brewing rebranded by launching a new can design. Shrunk down was the Mad Men-esque profile of the guy in the tie, fist in the air. (It’s actually Iverson’s likeness.) While the tie guy is still on the label, the dominant image is of a tie. What changes now is the pattern of the tie. The template evokes a similar rebranding by Three Taverns, which uses bold graphical typography to distinguish one beer from the other.

“As a brewery, your first five years are all about getting your brand out, front and center,” Iverson said. “The next five is all about the individual beer and its story. [With the new design], you still know it’s Monday Night but [the tie guy] is not the biggest thing on the can.”

On the effects of the law change
Georgia’s new law regarding on-premise sales permits breweries to sell up to 3,000 barrels of beer directly to consumers from their breweries. Each customer is allowed to buy up to a case a day directly from the brewery. Eliminating the distributor—the middleman, effectively—means higher margins for beermakers. SB85, as it’s called, “mostly helps small breweries starting out,” Iverson said. “Because they don’t have to start the way we did. It was a go-big-or-go-home state. Unless we built a massive system, where we were going to lose money for three years until we hit a volume [through distribution] where we can make money. What SB85 says is you don’t have to do that model. Instead, you can do high margin sales out of your taproom.”

For MNB, already established as one of Georiga’s major brewers, the law change’s effect on beer sales was nominal. Heck estimates that less than 10 percent of overall revenues are from taproom sales. Still, the law change did lead to the launch of the Hop Hut, a boutique brewing ancillary at the west Midtown location where brewers make small-batch beers, often sold only out of the taproom. The frequent releases mean customers not only have a reason to come back, but they’re also a testing ground for beers that could end up in brewery’s permanent portfolio.

“Our taproom is the place where people experience the brand,” Heck said. “Most people aren’t going to stop drinking Budweiser and start drinking Slap Fight because they see it on the Kroger shelf. But they’re going to start buying it off the Kroger shelf because they came to Monday Night and maybe tried a flight with four different beers. They meet employees, they had an experience, maybe they played cornhole. That’s why we think the taproom model is so critical for our continued growth.”

Monday Night Brewing Archipelago

On how big Georgia craft brewing can get
After a decade of averaging 10-plus percent growth in sales volume, national craft beer market has slowed. 2018 was just 5 percent up over the year before. Georgia, though, is still playing catch-up. As Iverson mentioned, the number of drinking age residents of Colorado and Oregon combined are roughly the same number as Georgia’s, but those two states together boast 614 craft brewers. Georgia still has fewer than 100.

“The pie is still growing in Georgia,” Heck said, “but at a slower rate.” Part of the reason of opening the Garage where MNB did was to widen the demographic. “The market is comprised of 22- to 35-year-old white males,” Iverson said. “For craft beer to keep growing it’s got to branch beyond that. That’s part of the mission of the Garage. We’re trying to get people who aren’t beer drinkers to come in and say, ‘Wow, this just redefined how I think about beer.’”

Tickets for the anniversary party can be purchased here.

In Atlanta, Joe Biden thanks and praises hospice nurses: “Simply put, you do God’s work.”

Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks at the Hospice Atlanta luncheon on Thursday.

Photograph by Jack Tuszynski

The amount of loss former vice president Joseph Biden has had to endure over his lifetime is staggering. In 1972, just weeks after Biden was elected to the U.S. Senate for the first time, his young wife, Neilia, and their 13-month-old daughter, Naomi, were killed in a car accident. Their two sons, Beau and Hunter, were gravely injured. Biden took his oath of office from their hospital room.

In 2015, Beau Biden died of brain cancer. He was 46. As Joe Biden remarked Thursday, his family members have been the beneficiaries of hospice care “more than I’d like to acknowledge.” Beyond the care nurses gave Beau in his final days, Biden’s own parents, as well as his wife Jill’s, were also in hospice care before they passed.

“Simply put, you all do God’s work,” Biden said, addressing the nurses among the crowd gathered for the 70th anniversary of the Visiting Nurse Health System, which provides in-home medical and palliative care throughout metro Atlanta. Hospice Atlanta is part of Visiting Nurse, providing end-of-life care to patients at home and also at the Andrew and Eula Carlos Hospice Atlanta Center in Brookhaven. Hospice Atlanta also runs Camp STARS, a bereavement camp for families who’ve lost a loved one. Last year the organization provided more than $3.5 million in unreimbursed medical care for patients. Thursday’s benefit luncheon was for Hospice Atlanta, and Biden attended at the urging of his friend, Senator Johnny Isakson.

For Biden, who characteristically ignored his prepared remarks, the event was a way to say thanks to hospice nurses and the nursing profession in general. “Doctors allow you to live,” he said. “Nurses, you make us want to live. I just want to personally thank you from the bottom of my heart. You’re the most underrated profession in all the world.”

Although Beau Biden’s battle with brain cancer represented the Biden family’s most recent interaction with hospice care—and was the subject of Biden’s 2017 book Promise Me, Dad: A Year of Hope, Hardship, and Purpose—the vice president also discussed the vital role hospice played in the deaths of his own parents, both of whom died at his home in Delaware, his father in 2002 and his mother in 2010.

Biden recalled the day a nurse came to him with a message: His father wished to see him.

“I went down, and he said, ‘Can you get your mom, Joey?” Biden recalled. When his mother arrived, Biden stepped aside, but overheard his father’s request of his mother, whom he’d always called “Pudding.”

“Puddin’,” Joseph Biden Sr. asked his wife, “is it okay if I go?”

As important as the comfort the nurses provided for the patients, Biden said, equally important was the reassurance they provided the family.

Biden spoke of “how profoundly [hospice nurses] affect the mental health of the family, who are losing part of their soul and their heart,” Biden said, occasionally wiping a tear. “What I don’t understand is how you have so much empathy, so much caring, and how you handle it. You’re truly remarkable people. Your presence is a blessing.”

Biden also plugged the Biden Cancer Initiative, launched last year to encourage more communication among researchers and doctors, and to marshal the various disciplines in a way to attack cancer in a more concerted way. “We’re trying to create a health care system that people think we already have. We should be able to say the affordability of cancer treatment is getting better, not worse. We can’t say that. We should be able to say that there’s widespread sharing of research data, and that medical records are easier and cheaper to get and share with researchers, but we can’t.

“But we can get there.”

Visiting Nurse Health System will host a fall fundraiser on October 6 at the Georgia Aquarium. For sponsorship and ticket information, call Dabney Hollis at 404-215-6011.


#BREAKING Former Vice President Joe Biden is in Atlanta speaking at the 70th anniversary of Visiting Nurse Health System. Read more here: https://on.11alive.com/2L9Hfa1

Posted by 11Alive on Thursday, May 17, 2018

In nearly every way, the Tex McIver verdict is confounding

Tex McIver verdict
Tex McIver watches Don Samuel during closing arguments on April 17.

Photograph by Bob Andres /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool

Occasionally during the course of Tex McIver’s six-week trial in the shooting death of his wife, his bookkeeper and friend Rachel Styles would drive to the Cobb County condo where he was staying to drop off some meals for him. Pot roast one time. Crab cakes another. “Just comfort food,” she told me. She’d leave the meals with the concierge, because she was, to her chagrin, a witness for the prosecution, meaning she and Tex were forbidden from communicating. It was Styles who had made copies for Diane McIver of what Diane had described as her second will, a will that ultimately was never found, but which became a key facet in the prosecution’s argument that Tex wanted Diane dead.

Styles was in Florida when yesterday’s verdict came down, watching a live stream on YouTube. On the first count—malice murder—the jury foreman announced, “Not guilty.” But then came guilty verdicts on counts two through five, including felony murder. “I just started bawling,” Styles said this morning. “I was just hysterical.”

The Tex McIver trial was that rare murder case that compels our attention for reasons that transcend the voyeuristic. There were the circumstances of Diane’s death itself—Tex in the back seat of their Ford Expedition as they made their way from their Putnam County ranch back to Buckhead one late summer night in 2016; his request to Diane that she hand him his gun when they exited at Edgewood Avenue to avoid Connector traffic; Tex allegedly dozing off; and then the gun in his hand discharging after, he claimed, he was startled awake; the bullet passing clean through Diane’s abdomen, mortally wounding her. But the trial was about much more than that night. Through a parade of 80-plus witnesses, we got a look at a life of privilege—a stable of horses, trips to Europe, assistants and drivers and masseuses and caretakers, even a ranch—the kind of cossetted existence most of us can only imagine. And in addition to the details the witnesses laid bare—the elaborate birthday parties for their godson Austin Schwall, Diane’s fastidious control of her finances, the question of why she never formally amended her will despite clear evidence she wanted to—the trial itself was an opportunity to see attorneys at the top of their game.

Defense co-counsel Don Samuel

Photograph by Bob Andres /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool

In McIver’s corner were three attorneys, two of whom—Bruce Harvey and Don Samuel—are the legal equivalent of having Messi and Ronaldo on your soccer team. Harvey was so courtly it was almost easy to miss when he lapsed into sarcasm. Samuel played the heavy, at times leveling a look of such disdain at either a witness or Judge Robert McBurney he seemed like a tired professor fed up with his students. (On day 14, the ever-patient McBurney closed a long colloquy with Samuel with the admonition, “Don’t call me ‘your worship’ again. Okay? Thank you.”)

Tex McIver verdict
Chief Assistant District Attorney Clint Rucker, with a photo of Diane McIver behind him, makes closing arguments for the prosecution on April 17.

Photograph by Bob Andres /Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP, Pool

Then there was chief prosecutor Clint Rucker, whose closing argument felt like the kind of summation you see in a movie. First, he set up a portrait of Diane McIver bigger than a desktop in front of the jury. He considered the photo for a moment, his hands clasped in contemplation, and then recited a poem. A poem!

“Who will stand for the little girl who was murdered and all alone?
Who will stand for the little girl who was now dead and without her own?
Who will stand for the little girl who came from humble means?
Who will stand for the little girl who fulfilled all her dreams?
Who will stand for the little girl who achieved much success?
Who will stand for the little girl whose love for Austin was endless?
Who will stand for Diane McIver?
She knew betrayal, hurt, and pain.
He was just coveting her money, again and again.
Who will stand for Diane McIver? A great woman she tried to be.
Who will stand for truth and justice—truth and justice—as she cries out, ‘Who will stand for me?’”

Within just hours of starting deliberations last Wednesday, the jury had a question: If we acquit on counts 1 through 4—which include the murder and aggravated assault charges—can we still convict on count 5, witness influencing? (The answer: Yes.) Jamila Hall, a partner at Jones Day law firm and former federal prosecutor, recalled to me a joke among prosecutors. “There’s always one jury question you don’t want to have and that’s, ‘How do you spell acquittal?’” she said. “That first series of jury questions were about as close to ‘How do you spell acquittal? as you can get.”

But then Wednesday turned to Thursday, then Friday, and then the weekend. Yesterday, the jury said it was deadlocked. McBurney gave them an Allen charge, essentially a plea to the jurors to reconcile their differences. With hours, they announced the verdict. McIver himself showed no emotion when the verdict was read, despite knowing the felony murder conviction, if upheld, means the 75-year-old would likely die in prison, even if McBurney makes him eligible for parole.

In many ways—in just about every way—the jury’s verdict was confounding. Acquitting Tex of malice murder meant the state had not proven that he had planned to kill his wife. But convicting him of aggravated assault meant he had intended to shoot her. “That he intended to hurt her but not kill her is totally inconsistent with the state’s theory, which is that he needed her dead in order to resolve his financial problems,” Hall said. Convicting him of aggravated assault was the felony the jury needed to convict him of felony murder, which is when a defendant kills another person in the commission of a felony. Intent to kill is not required.

Hall believes the McIver verdicts represent what’s called “jury nullification,” in which the jury could not agree on intent to kill, so compromised with a conviction of felony murder. “It doesn’t make legal sense,” Hall said. “There’s going to be a significant number of post-trial motions on this.” A central question the verdict raises, Hall said, is simply, “Was this decision just because the jury was convinced Tex McIver was a bad person?”

Beyond the apparent inconsistencies of the verdicts themselves, the trial was unusual for the number and scope of questions the jurors asked. Toward the conclusion of each witness’s testimony, McBurney would collect written questions from the jurors, and consult with the prosecution and defense about which to ask the witness. McBurney is the rare judge who permits them, and told the Fulton Daily Report that he was inspired to adopt the practice from the federal judge in the 2007 Scooter Libby trial. “I think folks seeking the truth ought to be able to do their job,” McBurney told the Daily Report. “It shouldn’t be a passive job. Lawyers don’t have a monopoly over common sense and what is relevant to a fact-finder’s mission.”

But the sheer number of questions—298—raises a potential avenue of appeal for the defense, Hall believes. “What defense lawyers will argue is that Judge McBurney’s policy of allowing jury questions allowed the jury to consider a case that hadn’t actually been put up,” she said. “The state has a burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt, and if it fails to put forward certain theories or evidence, having this panoply of jury questions that might have been on issues that the state hadn’t raised could be an issue. For 298 juror questions to come in, you start to wonder if that tips the scale away from the state’s burden.”

Finally, by Rucker’s account and at least one juror’s, viewing the Ford Expedition where McIver shot his wife was pivotal in reaching its guilty verdicts. That the SUV was not admitted into evidence by the state—McBurney did it himself—is another potential path for appeal, Hall said. “Without the judge admitting the SUV after the close of evidence, the jury would not have been able to sit in the SUV while handling the firearm, something they did not do before the close of evidence. This is a potentially reversible error.”

Hall believes Rucker and his team of prosecutors overcame significant obstacles—a lack of a second will, and no real explanation for why Tex would pick that particular moment to ask for the gun, when by all accounts he had no part in the decision to exit the highway, giving him the excuse to ask for the gun. “I don’t know that the state did a good job at fleshing out opportunity and how that opportunity matched the intent they were trying to prove,” Hall said.

But Tex’s behavior after he shot Diane (directing their driver to take them all the way to Emory University Hospital, for example, when three hospitals were closer) and after her death (fretting about Social Security benefits; letting her cremains languish; auctioning off her belongings; the list goes on) was all grist for the prosecution. Says Hall: “What they did prove was that Tex acted in a completely callous and reckless manner after Diane was shot. They did a fantastic job of laying that all out. You can’t be convicted of murder for being a bad, awful person, but I think that’s what the government accomplished.”

Last Tuesday, as closing arguments were wrapping up, Styles, her testimony complete, finally had a quick chat with Tex. “He was just trying to keep his faith. I told him how much I missed him. He said he missed me and to keep praying.”

Now that verdict is in, Styles knows there’s a good chance her friend will never breathe free air again. “I’m crushed about it. I just have to put it in God’s hands that there’s a purpose out there, and we’ll just wait and see what that is. I’ll go to my grave knowing that Tex McIver did not kill Diane McIver on purpose. There is no way, because he loved that woman unbelievably.”

Correction: A previous version of the story said Tex McIver was staying in a Buckhead condo. This has been updated to reflect he was staying in a Cobb County condo.

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