Two defense lawyers for a man who pleaded to killing his wife and shooting a judge squared off Wednesday over how the case that ended with a plea deal was handled.
On the witness stand was David Chesnoff, a noted Las Vegas attorney and former co-counsel for Darren Mack, who pleaded to the
June 2006 crimes.
Among other things, Chesnoff said he had advised Mack against testifying on his own behalf in the case because he might "look like a sociopath." Chesnoff also said he became physically ill when Mack described the bloody crime scene after stabbing his wife.
Asking the questions at the unusual hearing on Wednesday was Mack's new lawyer, William Routsis, who is trying to convince District Judge Douglas Herndon to allow Mack to withdraw those pleas and go to trial.
Mack and Routsis, in court documents, allege Chesnoff and another former defense lawyer, Scott Freeman, misled Mack into believing he would be acquitted, then coerced him into entering pleas, abruptly ending his trial Nov. 5.
Chesnoff disputed that contention, saying Mack expressed interest in a plea if it could lead to less time behind bars, and later had "buyers remorse" with his decision.
The weekend before his plea, Chesnoff said he and Freeman met frequently with Mack, going over details and ramifications of the deal.
Chesnoff said he also contacted Herndon and arranged for Mack to spend time alone with his family on that Monday morning before the plea was entered.
"He specifically told me he wanted to be the one to tell his family," Chesnoff said.
Mack, 46, was charged with first-degree murder for the stabbing death of his wife, Charla, in June, 2006. From early on, he maintained he acted in self defense.
Authorities said he then drove to a downtown Reno parking garage with a high-powered rifle and shot Family Court Judge Chuck Weller through the window of his third-floor chamber. He initially pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to that count, but ended up entering the equivalent of a no-contest plea.
His sentencing was postponed pending a decision on his motion to
withdraw his pleas.
During questioning Wednesday, Chesnoff described Mack as delusional, and said he believed an insanity defense was his only
Pressed by Routsis, Chesnoff said, "The only possible explanation, defense wise, was insanity because he admitted he did it."
Chesnoff also said the plea deal was in Mack's best interest because character witnesses Mack said would vouch for his honesty wouldn't cooperate, and rebuttal witnesses planned by the prosecution made it likely he would be convicted. He also said he didn't want Mack to testify.
"I told him there was a possibility he would look like a sociopath if he testified," Chesnoff said.
Routsis asked Chesnoff whether any attempt was made to locate a gun Mack argues could have proven his self defense claim by containing Charla Mack's fingerprints.
Chesnoff said Mack didn't mention the gun during meetings early in the case, but later told Freeman he had remembered it while meditating.
Routsis asked a number of questions suggesting Chesnoff had not done all he could to properly defend Mack and that Chesnoff had given up too easy.
He asked Chesnoff why he told Mack at one point that the prosecution's case was "impenetrable."
Chesnoff said one reason was because he knew the prosecution was
going to call a "blood spatter expert" to describe the way Charla Mack apparently "gurgled" blood as she died.
"The other thing," Chesnoff said, "was that Darren - in preparing for his testimony - had told us that after he stabbed her, he put his knee on her head and she was gurgling."
"When he told that to us when preparing for his testimony, I got physically ill."
Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.