RENO, Nev. (AP) - A former Reno pawnbroker deserves maximum time
in prison for killing his wife and attempting to "assassinate" the judge who was handling their divorce, a prosecutor argued Thursday.
Special Prosecutor Christopher Lalli urged District Judge Douglas Herndon to follow the recommendations of a plea deal and the Department of Parole and Probation, and sentence Darren Mack to a minimum of 36 years.
But members of the Mack family asked Herndon for leniency, describing him as a loving father who was caring and compassionate.
"My dad is innocent," said Mack's 19-year-old son, Jory.
"I've lived with my dad, and he's one of the greatest people I've ever met," he said, adding that he loved both his dad and his stepmother.
Darren Mack also testified, reiterating his claims that he was coerced into a plea deal he didn't want by his former lawyers and denying that he intended to kill his estranged wife.
Mack, 46, pleaded guilty to stabbing his wife, Charla, to death in his southeast Reno town house on June 12, 2006. Authorities say he then drove to a downtown parking garage downtown, where he shot Family Court Judge Chuck Weller with a high-powered rifle through
the window of his third-floor chambers from 170 yards away.
Weller was shot in the chest area and has since recovered.
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, came to an end Nov. 5 when Mack pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and the equivalent of no contest to attempted murder. Soon after, he fired his previous lawyers, hired William Routsis, and tried unsuccessfully to withdraw his pleas and go to trial.
Lalli said Mack's lack of remorse combined with the evidence shows his actions were planned.
"Charla's killing was nothing short of willful and premeditated murder," Lalli said, noting a "to do" list found in Mack's kitchen that authorities said outlined his plans, including "end problem."
Mack claims that his wife was the aggressor in an abusive relationship and that he killed her in self defense.
"There's absolutely no suggestion of self defense here," Lalli said of evidence. "Her head was severed almost completely from her body."
Mack, in a lengthy recital, renewed his claims that Weller was corrupt and was trying to extort money out of him by threatening to take his daughter away or put him in jail for contempt.
"We talk about gun control in this country. There needs to be gavel-control laws," Mack said. "There's two things you can't say in court in the state of Nevada - proof and the truth."
Mack said he had been planning on leaving the country before Charla attacked him and he stabbed her.
"I was being forced out of my country because I was being threatened with jail," he said.
He said he voluntarily came back from Mexico "to make sure this didn't happen to other people."
"I didn't have a lot of hope for myself, but I wanted the truth to be told," he said.
Mack also "endorsed" all the good things people say about his former wife, but said that she had a dark side that was manipulative, abusive and threatening.
"I lived with Charla for 10 years and I have a lot to say," he said, adding that she "victimized" and "terrorized" him. "They don't have a right to tell me what didn't happen behind closed doors."
Mack said he offered her $1.2 million to settle their divorce before lawyers got involved, but she refused.
"A lot of people don't recognize, I lost a wife, too," he said through tears. "I loved Charla ... I just couldn't live with her."
Under the plea deal, Mack faces up to life in prison with possible parole after 20 years for the killing.
But he also faces two to 20 years for attempted murder for shooting Weller, with an automatic doubling of the sentence because a deadly weapon was used. Herndon will decide whether the sentences will be served at the same time - meaning he could spend less time in prison - or run back-to-back.
Lalli argued for the latter.
Shooting the judge, he said, was "an attack on our judiciary; on our rule of law."
Mack's eyes teared when his girlfriend, Alecia Biddison, his mother and other friends and family members talked of his life before the violence.
"Darren was not planning the events of June 12," Biddison said. She said she met Mack in March 2006 and was working with him to expose perceived corruption in the judicial system.
She asked the judge to impose minimum sentences and allow them
to be served concurrently.
Joan Mack, owner of Palace Jewelry & Loan, described her eldest son as "very special" as a little boy, and grew up to run the family business when his father died 22 years ago.
Joan Mack also spoke fondly of her former daughter-in-law, but said things got tense during the couple's divorce.
"To me Charla was the daughter I never had," Joan Mack said. "She was a good mother. A good daughter-in-law. I wanted them to make a go of it."
She said she believes her son is remorseful.
"He's admitted to killing Charla. I know he's feeling deep remorse," she said. "Things happen. What has happened has caused so many people so much grief."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)