RENO — Darren Mack feared for his life when he turned himself in to authorities in Mexico after he killed his estranged wife and shot a judge in Reno in 2006, according to retiring Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick.
Gammick, who persuaded Mack to surrender, said the former Reno pawn shop owner figured he would have a better chance of beating the most serious charges back home in the United States.
“He was real concerned that he’d either be killed down there or could end up in a Mexican prison,” he said.
Gammick was a longtime friend of the once-wealthy businessman who’s now serving 36 years in prison for the murder of his wife, Charla, and attempted murder of Family Court Judge Chuck Weller, who had handled their nasty divorce.
Mack maintained that he slashed his wife’s throat in self-defense. He said he shot Weller through his downtown courthouse office window with a high-powered rifle from a parking garage nearly two football fields away. But he said he wasn’t trying to kill the judge, only send him “a message.”
Mack ended up pleading guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder in November 2007.
Gammick said at the time that Mack contacted him by telephone in June 2006 after he’d been the target of a manhunt for 10 days and the FBI was able to trace some of his previous calls to Mexico. He provided new details this past week in an interview on KRNV-TV’s “Nevada Newsmakers.”
“He was saying, ‘I just shot Judge Weller, I didn’t mean to kill him. And my wife, that was self-defense,’ ” Gammick recalled. “He figured he had all this stuff built in so he could beat the charges.
“He actually got off a lot lighter than I thought considering all that went down, all the planning that was put into it … (but) I think Darren will probably be in prison the rest of his life.”
Gammick, an Elko native who was an assistant to former District Attorney and boxing referee Mills Lane, decided against running for re-election this year for the post he’s held since 1995.
His 2010 challenger accused him of “misconduct” in his handling of the Mack case, saying it ultimately cost Washoe County taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars because Mack’s trial had to be moved from Reno to Las Vegas.
The judge who granted the change of venue threw out Mack’s alleged confession in the tape-recorded telephone calls to Gammick from Mexico. Clark County District Judge Douglas Herndon said the conversations were recorded illegally and that they were inadmissible because Gammick knew Mack was represented by lawyers and had a professional duty not to talk to him.
Gammick defended his interaction with Mack in an interview in 2010.
“He calls me and wants to broker a deal where he can turn himself in without getting hurt,” Gammick said. “What was I supposed to do? Talk about public safety? This guy is at large and I have an opportunity to bring him in without anyone getting hurt, which is what happened.”
But Gammick acknowledged in last week’s interview that his assistants were against him getting involved from the beginning.