An emotional judge sentenced a former Reno pawn shop owner to life in prison on Friday for killing his wife and shooting the judge who was handling their bitter divorce.
District Judge Douglas Herndon sentenced Darren Mack to a minimum of 36 years in prison before issuing a tearful plea for reconciliation among the families involved on behalf of Mack's daughter.
Mack, 46, pleaded guilty in November to murder in the June 2006 stabbing death of his wife, Charla, and the equivalent of no contest to attempted murder in the same-day sniper-style shooting of Family Court Judge Chuck Weller. Weller, who was struck by fragments of a bullet, shot through a window at the Washoe County courthouse, has recovered from his wounds.
Herndon imposed the maximum terms of a plea deal by sentencing Mack to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years on the murder charge. The judge also upheld the recommendation of Special Prosecutor Christopher Lalli by sentencing Mack to 40 years with parole possible after 16 years for attempted murder with a deadly weapon. Both terms are to run back-to-back.
In handing down the sentence, Herndon cited the heinous nature of the crimes and Mack's lack of remorse.
"The truth is Mr. Mack is guilty of these crimes, but he doesn't want to hear anything about that," the judge said.
After sentencing Mack, Herndon issued an emotional plea for Mack's family and his wife's survivors to "be a bigger person" for the sake of the couple's 9-year-old daughter.
"You have a young child at a very impressionable age, to enter soon her teen years and then adult life," Herndon said, pausing to compose himself.
"You all can either choose to raise her, disparaging her parents on each side," he said, "or you can try to get past the court cases, the criminal proceedings. ... and teach her good things about both these parents."
"She needs to be raised with hugs and kisses," Herndon said with tears visible in his eyes.
During testimony Thursday, Mack reiterated his claims that he acted in self defense when the slashed his wife's throat in the garage of his southeast Reno town house.
He also has argued that he was coerced by his former lawyers into the plea deal, and suggested the attorneys, prosecutors, investigators and law enforcement officers who investigated the case were corrupt.
Herndon said while he allowed Mack to speak at length, he never said what the judge hoped he'd hear: "I'm sorry."
Herndon's sentencing followed emotional testimony earlier Friday by Charla Mack's family and Weller.
Soorya Townley described how she and her daughter had grown closer as they got older.
"I was one of those lucky mothers to be best friends with my daughter," she said. "In those last years, Charla and I cleared our past mother-daughter conflicts."
She said her daughter's dream was to sing professionally, or start a business developing seminars for divorcing couples.
"Charla believed ... she could even tame Darren's rage" and get him involved," Townley said.
Mack hung his head in his hands and appeared to cry when Townley
concluded her testimony with a song Charla had recorded before her
"It was a song she wanted to sing to Darren," Townley said.
Authorities said Mack, upset with contentious divorce proceedings and his belief that Weller was corrupt, killed his estranged wife when she arrived to drop off their daughter.
Charla Mack had filed for divorce in 2005. In court documents, her lawyer said Darren Mack ignored Weller's order to pay her $10,000 a month in temporary alimony. Weller found him in contempt of court, but Mack filed for bankruptcy to avoid paying.
The lawyer also said in documents that Mack continued to live a lavish lifestyle, took frequent vacations with girlfriends and often attended "swinger" parties.
The pathologist who conducted the autopsy on Charla Mack said she died from at least seven different stab wounds, including one to the neck near her collarbone.
Mack then drove to downtown a parking garage, where he shot Weller from 170 yards away. In his plea, Mack admitted shooting Weller, but denied he intended to kill him.
After shooting the judge, Mack fled to Mexico, where he voluntarily surrendered 11 days later.
His trial, which was moved to Las Vegas because of extensive media coverage in Reno, ended Nov. 5 when Mack entered his pleas after prosecutors had finished presenting their case. Soon after, he fired his previous lawyers, hired William Routsis to represent him, and tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his pleas and get another trial.
On Friday, Routsis said he would take the case to the Nevada Supreme Court, which this week denied his motion seeking to block the sentencing and allow Mack to withdraw his pleas.
Lalli was pleased. "A very sad chapter in the history of this community has come to an end," he said.
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)