Lawyer with ties to South Shore takes on high-profile murder case
Darren Mack, the Reno man accused of killing his wife and injuring a judge in a sniper-style shooting in June 2006, has a new lawyer: William Routsis, who has an office in South Lake Tahoe.
In his first interview with a newspaper since taking the case, Routsis told the Tribune on Thursday that he’ll try the case “very differently” than the previous defense team, should it result in a new trial.
And if the wealthy former co-owner of a pawn shop does stand trial again: “Darren Mack will testify in his case,” Routsis said. “He’s been wanting his story to come out for more than 14 months.”
Mack was in the middle of a trial – being conducted in Las Vegas so that an impartial jury could be found – when he reached a plea deal Nov. 5, abruptly ending the trial.
Mack pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and entered an Alford plea to attempted murder in the attack on the judge just as the defense was to begin calling witnesses. Under an Alford plea, a defendant acknowledges there is enough evidence for a conviction but does not admit guilt. While Mack admitted to Judge Douglas Herndon that he shot Family Court Judge Chuck Weller, he invoked the complicated plea concerning his intent.
Mack faces life in prison with the possibility of parole after 20 years on the murder charge, with sentencing set to begin Jan. 17. But last week, Mack filed forms to replace his lawyers, Scott Freeman and David Chesnoff, with Routsis. And Wednesday, Routsis filed a motion to withdraw Mack’s guilty pleas, based on several claims:
— The judge was not thorough enough in asking Mack if he realized what rights he was giving up with his pleas, Routsis contends. “The plea canvass fails to enumerate these rights on the record, let alone specifically canvass Mack to his waiver of each and every one,” his motion states.
— Mack was under duress throughout the trial, Routsis contends, saying that at the time of his pleas, Mack was losing sleep due to back pain that went mostly untreated and a jail cell that was too hot, causing dehydration.
— When the judge asked Mack if he had “willfully, feloniously and without authority of law stabbed at and into the body of Charla Mack causing her death,” Mack answered, “That’s correct,” according to a transcript. But Routsis said the judge never questioned Mack about his understanding of “premeditation” and “deliberation.” With further questioning, Mack would have explained his actions were in self-defense, as he has stated all along, Routsis said.
Before the trial, Mack had pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity to the charge of attempted murder of Judge Weller, who had been handling his divorce from Charla Mack.
The special prosecutor for the case, Christopher Lalli, could not be reached for comment Thursday. He was quoted by other media last week saying he expected an attempt to reverse the pleas would be unsuccessful.
Routsis said the Mack case, which has drawn national media attention, is the highest-profile case he has handled. The lawyer is based mainly in Reno, but he also works out of the Laub & Laub law office on Ski Run Boulevard in South Lake Tahoe and in Truckee.
Routsis may be familiar to those on the South Shore for defending Rodney Sency, who stood trial this year in Placerville in the death of Edward Ortega. Sency, a former South Shore auto mechanic, was acquitted on a manslaughter charge.
A ruling on the Mack motion may take several weeks or even months, Routsis said. The lawyer would like to file supplemental material to support his motion. Prosecutors would have time to respond, and an evidentiary hearing could be held, including witness testimony.
An initial hearing on the matter is scheduled Monday in Washoe District Court in Reno.
Routsis said if the case returns to trial, he expects it would again be held in Las Vegas. For now, he has requested all materials regarding the case from Mack’s previous lawyers.
“It will be a great deal of work,” Routsis said of the Mack case.
– The Associated Press contributed to this report.