Sniper suspect’s case delayed; conflict alleged
RENO – The initial court appearance for Darren Mack, accused of killing his wife and shooting a judge handling their divorce, was delayed Monday after his attorney said he will seek an order to throw all Washoe County prosecutors and judges off the case.
Mack’s lawyer Scott Freeman contends the prosecutors and jurists have a conflict of interest because of their ties with either Mack or Family Court Judge Chuck Weller, who was shot in the chest in a sniper attack on June 12.
Under an amended complaint filed Monday, Mack is charged with murder in the stabbing of his wife, Charla, and attempted murder and battery with a deadly weapon in the same-day shooting of Weller, who handled the couple’s divorce. Weller is recovering in good condition.
“We’re not acknowledging it’s a valid complaint because there’s a conflict of interest,” Freeman told Justice of the Peace Ed Dannan via a live video hookup Monday from the Reno jail.
Dannan delayed the hearing to 10 a.m. Thursday until a ruling on the motion could be made. Freeman suggested the motion could go to the Nevada Supreme Court.
Mack stood next to Freeman at the jail but did not say a word. Appearing clean-shaven and calm, he wore an orange jumpsuit and belly chain.
Freeman did not immediately return a phone call seeking additional comment.
Deputy District Attorney Elliott Sattler said the motion would be challenged.
“The state doesn’t believe there’s a conflict,” Sattler said. “I’ve never seen anything like this and that’s why I’m anxiously awaiting to find out what happens.”
Freeman said District Attorney Dick Gammick and Assistant District Attorney John Helzer were “witnesses to facts in the case” before Mack surrendered after an 11-day manhunt Thursday night in Mexico. He later was returned to Reno.
At a news conference last week, Gammick said he had known Mack for 20 years and acknowledged his personal relationship with him “could be an issue down the road,” but said he had assigned the case to Sattler.
Gammick said he was not personally involved in the search for the former pawn shop owner, and only became involved because Mack called him early last week.
Gammick said he talked with Mack by phone about a dozen times last week before Mack surrendered. They also communicated by e-mail.
“We work really hard to try to avoid as many of these legal issues we can,” Gammick said Friday. “But the attorneys on the other side are aggressive, and I’m sure we’re going to see challenges on just about every single thing that can be challenged.”
While Freeman asked that no local judge preside over the case, his motion is different than a request for a change of venue. An outside judge still could be brought in to hear the case in Reno under the motion.
Sattler, who said he has no relations with either Mack or Weller, said no decision has been made whether to seek the death penalty against Mack.
Charla Mack’s body was found June 12 in Mack’s townhouse garage.
The same day, Weller was shot in the chest as he stood near his third-floor office window. The judge has been recovering under guard.
Darren Mack co-owned a pawn shop until 2005, when he turned over control to his mother. He earned more than $500,000 a year and had a net worth of $9.4 million as recently as 2004, according to court documents.