With the trial still nearly a year away, a judge on Thursday ruled against a number of defense motions filed by the lawyers for the former wealthy Reno pawn shop owner accused of killing his wife and shooting a judge.
Among other things, Judge Doug Herndon of Las Vegas ruled that a
justice of the peace acted appropriately when he denied a request
by defense lawyers to have Darren Mack undergo a psychiatric
evaluation before his preliminary hearing.
Herndon rejected defense arguments that attempted murder charges
for the shooting of Washoe County Family Court Judge Chuck Weller
should be dismissed for lack of evidence and ordered that exhibits used at Mack's preliminary hearing in August be available for public review.
Mack, 45, is accused of stabbing to death his estranged wife, Charla, at his Reno townhouse on June 12.
Prosecutors allege he then drove to a downtown parking garage and shot Weller, who was handling the couple's contentious divorce,
through the window of his third-floor chambers. Weller survived and
has since recovered.
Mack surrendered to authorities 11 days later in Mexico. His trial is scheduled to begin Oct. 1, 2007.
Defense lawyers David Chesnoff and Scott Freeman on Thursday
argued that Justice of the Peace Edward Dannan was prejudicial when
he would not order a mental examination for Mack at their request.
In Washoe County, Freeman said, such requests are granted "as a matter of course," but Dannan gave a day's notice that he wanted legal briefs explaining their reasons.
"He had a mission to get the Darren Mack case off his plate," Freeman said of Dannan.
During the preliminary hearing in August, the defense said it couldn't cite specific examples of Mack's questionable mental abilities because they were protected by attorney-client privilege. Instead, they submitted two affidavits from experts who said an exam was warranted.
In response, Special Prosecutor Christopher Lalli Lalli called to the stand a social worker who was working with Mack on custody
issues involving his young daughter. The woman testified Mack was
alert and seemed to understand the events and conversations around
Dannan denied the mental exam, saying there was no evidence to
suggest Mack was unable to assist in his defense, as his attorneys
During Thursday's hearing, Lalli countered that while such evaluations might be routine in Washoe County, they are not in other jurisdictions like Clark County, where both he and the judge are from.
He called the affidavits provided by the defense experts "lame," and said the competency issue was an attempt to delay the proceedings.
"Clearly what Judge Dannan did was 110 percent correct," Lalli said.
Herndon agreed, saying, Dannan handled the case in "a legally appropriate manner."
After court, Freeman said the defense would consider filing another motion to have their client evaluated.
Herndon also rejected defense arguments that prosecutors lacked
evidence to link Mack to the shooting of Weller.
"The real key here is whether the defendant was adequately identified by the evidence," Herndon said. "Events on the day of the shooting ... support the belief he killed his wife on that date."
While specific evidence tying him to the judge's shooting is less clear, all the circumstantial evidence taken together meets the burden required to bound Mack over for trial, Herndon said.
Earlier in Thursday's hearing, Herndon granted a motion filed by the Reno Gazette-Journal to allow public access to exhibits used in the preliminary hearing.
The newspaper had objected to an earlier ruling by Herndon to seal the evidence that includes crime scene and autopsy photos, as well as an incriminating note described as a "to do list" found on the kitchen table at Mack's condo.
The list, according to descriptions in earlier court proceedings, included cryptic notations, such as "end problem," that could be viewed as a blueprint for the day's bloody crime spree.
Defense lawyers objected to its release before they had a chance
at trial to argue against its admission as evidence.
But Herndon noted it was widely reported in press coverage during the preliminary hearing.
"The proverbial cat's out of the bag," he said.
While granting access to the exhibits, Herndon's order prohibits copying or reproducing them.
Gazette-Journal lawyer Scott Glogovac said the newspaper would
consider appealing that part of the ruling to the Nevada Supreme Court.