Criminal Justice

Man who killed wife, shot at divorce judge through courthouse window calls counsel ineffective


Updated: A Nevada businessman who unsuccessfully sought to withdraw from a plea deal after he stabbed his wife to death and shot at a Reno divorce judge sniper-style through a courthouse window during a single day in 2006 is now claiming his defense lawyers were ineffective.

In a continuing effort to take the murder and attempted-murder case to trial despite his convictions and a 36- to 60-year sentence that likely will require him to spend nearly 40 years in prison, if he lives that long, Darren Mack is now arguing in a federal court appeal in Reno that his lawyers pressured him into accepting a plea deal that he didn’t want to accept. To support his case, he has attached as exhibits to a recent motion a 2007 memo written by then-defense attorney Scott Freeman to co-counsel David Chesnoff and a 2008 letter from a defense psychiatrist, the Associated Press reports.

In the memo, Freeman, who is now a Washoe County judge, wrote that Mack said he was justified in shooting at a “corrupt” judge who ruled against him on divorce issues and was reluctant to take a plea based on an insanity defense on the attempted-murder count, because “he does not want to be viewed as a ‘nut-case’ with a rifle.” The letter from the psychiatrist supports Mack’s claim that he agreed to take the plea because he was told by defense counsel he would serve 20 years and then be paroled, and also questions whether Mack was competent to make a plea decision at the time.

In his appeal, which he filed himself in December, Mack writes “One cannot imagine any pardons board or parole board … ever paroling somebody or commuting the sentence of one who has admitted to attempting to assassinate a judge.”

In addition to complaining about his divorce judge, Mack made similar misconduct claims about law enforcement officers, prosecutors, investigators and his own lawyers, according to another Associated Press article published at the time of his 2008 sentencing.

He and supporters suggested to a 48 Hours correspondent in 2008 that Mack was somehow a victim because he was driven by a bitter divorce to kill his wife and used a high-powered rifle to shoot from a parking garage, hundreds of yards away, at Family Court Judge Chuck Weller. The judge, who was hit by shrapnel and glass shards, recovered from his wounds.

Defense lawyers said Mack had insisted on a dual, and somewhat inconsistent, defense of insanity and self-defense, concerning Weller and Mack’s wife, Charla, the CBS News program reported.

“Shooting at the judiciary is not the proper form of political redress,” Mack said at his sentencing in Las Vegas, where the case was moved because of pretrial publicity, KLAS reported at the time.

However, District Judge Douglas Herndon noted his lack of remorse and a failure to apologize, the AP article on his sentencing said. Mack claimed he had killed his much smaller spouse in self-defense and alleged that she had physically and emotionally abused him.

Mack says he spent $1.2 million on defense fees, the most recent AP article reports. He is now seeking a public defender to represent him in the appeal.

See also:

ABAJournal.com: “Man Accused of Shooting Divorce Judge Gets New Venue”

ABAJournal.com: “Reno Courthouse Shooting Suspect Pleads Guilty”

Updated on June 26 to substitute lengthier Associated Press article published by Las Vegas Review-Journal and include information it provides.

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