LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — It was the biggest thing to happen in “The Biggest Little City:” a man kills his wife, shoots the judge overseeing their divorce and runs off to Mexico. Thirteen years later, Darren Mack’s son says his father is partially innocent and deserves a day in court.
“I get it, I understand; I understand what it looks like,” Jory Mack, now 32, said. “When you start putting those puzzle pieces together, you see an entirely different picture.”
Jory, Darren’s son from a previous marriage, was 17 when his father, a wealthy pawn shop owner, killed his ex-wife, Charla Mack, inside his Reno townhouse. Darren then drove to a parking garage and shot Judge Chuck Weller, who was overseeing his divorce case, through his office window.
“You have one person dead, one person shot, and he’s in Mexico,” Jory said about that day.
‘It was self-defense’
June 12, 2006, began like any other day for the Mack family. Darren was at his townhouse with a friend when Charla arrived with their daughter, court records said. The Macks’ daughter and Darren’s friend went upstairs to the townhouse’s living area as Darren went downstairs to his garage.
Darren and Charla married in 1995 and divorced in 2005. They share one daughter and were due for a hand-off when something went wrong.
While awaiting a final divorce settlement, Weller ordered Darren to pay Charla $10,000 a month.
At some point that June morning, Charla got out of her car and went into the garage. She didn’t leave alive. Darren stabbed her at least six times.
“It was self-defense, and all the evidence actually corroborates that,” Jory said. A court order prohibited either parent from exiting their car during a custodial handoff, records said. Jory claims it was Charla who became violent.
“As he started walking back inside, she punched him in the back of the head,” Jory said. At that point, Darren, who was carrying a gun and a knife, fell to the ground.
“When that gun fell out, I think she saw an opportunity,” Jory said. “She picked it up, pointed it at him, smiled and then pulled the trigger.” But, according to Jory, the gun did not fire.
Jory said he had a good relationship with his stepmother. “I loved my stepmother,” he shared. “I love her, and this is about about the truth and the facts.”
Darren said he threw the gun away on his drive to downtown Reno. There was no evidence at the scene of a gun firing, court records said, but there would be little proof if it misfired.
Finding the gun that Darren claims to have had that day would show Charla’s DNA on the trigger, Jory said.
“It would prove his story is true and would prove self-defense.”
Years of appeals, new evidence
Darren’s trial was moved from Washoe County to Las Vegas because of all the attention. In court, prosecutors said Darren had planned an ambush on Charla. They cited a notepad found in Darren’s home with a list of tasks, including the words “end problem.”
Other evidence shown in court included receipts from a car Darren rented a week prior. But Jory said his father did not plan Charla’s murder, citing the fact his stepsister was upstairs with a friend the entire time.
In regards to the shooting of Weller, Jory said his father wanted to send a message, adding he is an avid marksman and could have fired a fatal shot.
“It would have been easy if he wanted to kill him just to take another shot,” Jory said. “If you’ve been planning on doing something like this, and you’ve been planning for it for a while, you plan not to get caught.”
By the afternoon of June 12, Darren was driving to Mexico with nearly $40,000. He turned himself in less than two weeks later.
More than a year after his arrest, Darren had his first day in court. Jory said his father was under severe stress during the court proceedings. He also said his jail cell was overheated, and he was sleep deprived.
After the prosecution rested its case in November 2007, Darren accepted a plea deal. He admitted to killing Charla and accepted an Alford plea for shooting Weller. An Alford plea allows a defendant to plead innocence, but admits the evidence shown in court would likely lead to a conviction.
Jory also claims the signature on his father’s plea deal was forged.
A judge sentenced Darren to a sentence of 40 years to life.
“My will was broken down,” Darren said on the stand during an appeal in 2008. “I wouldn’t enter a guilty plea on murder, because I didn’t murder Charla.”
A new case
Since 2007, Darren has filed several appeals in state court, two of which have gone to the Nevada State Supreme Court. All his appeals have been denied.
A new federal court case filed this fall claims Darren’s original legal team failed him by accepting a plea before evidence was presented in court.
The I-Team reached out to Darren’s original legal team and did not receive a response. They have previously denied Darren’s claims.
But the main question remains more than a decade later: Where is the gun, and what happened in that garage?
Darren is serving his sentence at the state prison in Lovelock. He is up for parole in 2042 when he is 82-years-old.