Judge decides to move Mack trial to Las Vegas

RENO — Restless nights in his hotel and disastrous days in the courtroom finally convinced District Judge Douglas Herndon to abandon his preference to hold the Darren Mack murder trial in Reno and to move it to Las Vegas, where 10 times as many potential jurors know less about the sensational case.

“This case has caused me to lose a lot of sleep over the past few nights,” Herndon said Thursday.

“I think it’s apparent there’s a reasonable likelihood that an impartial panel cannot be found here,” he said.

Mack, 46, is accused of stabbing his estranged wife, Charla, to death at his town house June 12, 2006, then shooting their divorce judge sniper-style in his chambers from a parking garage as the judge sat in his chambers. Chuck Weller has since recovered from a chest wound.

From the first request by the defense in April to move the trial, Herndon had said it was a Washoe County case that deserved to be tried in Reno. As recently as Monday, when Mack’s attorneys filed their second motion for a change of venue, he said he was optimistic a jury could be seated.

Of a panel of 52 prospective jurors questioned on Monday and Tuesday, a dozen were seated. On Wednesday, a second panel of 34 people produced one additional juror, but a man who had been seated earlier was dismissed for making some statements that were determined to be untrue.

“So our net gain was zero,” Herndon said dejectedly from the bench on Thursday. “Yesterday was just a disaster.”

Herndon said he had not expected the prospective jurors to know so much about the case. He also was disappointed that many kept reading and watching news stories about the pending trial even after they filled out the jurors’ questionnaires.

Of 400 people who were sent questionnaires, nearly half failed to return them or had been dismissed on Wednesday.

Attorneys for both sides said the decision was not unexpected.

“We’re very, very excited. This is something we worked hard for,” defense attorney Scott Freeman said. “It became apparent that as we had anticipated, it would have been difficult for people to set aside their opinions that they probably had.”

Christopher Lalli of the Clark County district attorney’s office, who was named a special prosecutor in the case, welcomed the judge’s order to begin jury selection in Las Vegas Oct. 15.

“What we’re pleased about is that we maintain the trial date and we continue on. I would have been very concerned if the trial would have been continued six months down the line.”

In his detailed order, Herndon cited earlier sensational cases in Nevada in which no change of venue was granted — Priscilla Ford’s Thanksgiving Day rampage in downtown Reno, Michael Sonner, who killed a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper and “sex slave” killer Gerald Gallego.

But he relied on a century-old murder case that was overturned because a venue change was not granted as weighing in on his decision.

“I’m completely impressed with the judge’s scholarly approach to this issue,” defense co-counsel David Chesnoff said after the ruling.

Herndon’s order calls for juror questionnaires to be mailed in Clark County by Monday.

Herndon was assigned the case after all Washoe County judges were disqualified because the case involved a judge. Lalli and Robert Daskas were assigned from the Clark County district attorney’s office after Washoe County DA Richard Gammick recused himself because of a long association with Mack and his family.

Unlike Ford, Sonner and Gallego, Herndon said Mack, a formerly wealthy pawn shop owner, was well known in the community, and that also played into his decision to change the trial’s location.

Herndon also said in researching documents submitted by the defense, he found references to 144 newspaper articles and 242 television stories on the case in addition to Web site stories and blogs.

He said Ford’s case in the early 1980s generated only 66 newspaper references.

In addition to the local news reports, Herndon said approximately 100,000 potential jurors live in Washoe County, which he said was a relatively small number from which to choose a jury in such a well publicized case.

“I don’t think you can go anywhere without having knowledge about the case. But in Clark County, you have over 1 million (people) from which to choose jurors,” he said. “I think moving it to Clark County makes sense.”

Mack, who normally sits silently next to Freeman while paying rapt attention to proceedings, was asked by the judge if he agreed with the change.

“Very much so, sir,” he replied.

“Would you agree that a move to Clark County would be in your best interest?” the judge asked. “Absolutely, sir,” Mack responded

After the incidents of June 12, 2006, Mack fled the Reno area and ended up in Mexico, where he surrendered 11 days later. Charged with murder and attempted murder, he has pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity.

News Videos
Henderson fails to investigate the drug overdose death of one of its officers
Henderson Police Department's internal affairs did not investigate the 2014 drug overdose death of an officer. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Syphilis Awareness Day
Dr. Joe Iser, District Health Officer of the Southern Nevada Health District, discusses the effects and issues with syphilis in the Las Vegas community on April 16, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Las Vegas diocese IDs 33 ‘credibly accused’ of sexual abuse
The Catholic Diocese of Las Vegas released a list on Friday of 33 “credibly accused” of sexual abuse who at some point served in the Las Vegas Valley. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
CCSD Arbor View meeting
The Clark County School Board hears from the public about racial tensions at Arbor View High School on Thursday, April 11, 2019. (Amelia Park-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Parents of autistic student battle Clark County School District
Joshua and Britten Wahrer, parents of a special education student, are battling the Clark County School District for the right to equip their son with a monitoring device. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New Metro homeless outreach a shift in strategy
Lt. Joe Sobrio discusses the new homeless outreach team for Metro. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Prayer for Opportunity Scholarships
Las Vegas students and adults hold a prayer meeting about the Opportunity Scholarship program on Thursday, April 4, 2019. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Solar scams on the rise in Nevada
As Nevada’s solar industry has made a resurgence, solar scammers have followed suit.
Clark County schools and the late bus issue
Year after year, late or no-show buses in the Clark County School District draw the ire of parents and students alike. One year the problem even prompted a parent to crack a school bus window in frustration over a late drop-off. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
I-15 southbound congested near Primm Sunday afternoon
Drivers heading toward California on Interstate 15 should expect heavy traffic and a 13-mile backup Sunday afternoon.
Learning lifesaving skills in advance of fire season
Students and firefighters attend a training session at Fire Station 80 in Blue Diamond, Saturday, March 30, 2019. The training session helps volunteer firefighters obtain necessary annual certification to work wild fires.
Car restoration behind prison walls
Inmates share their experiences working for the Southern Desert Correctional Center auto body shop in Indian Springs while learning valuable skills.
Parent remembers Las Vegas boy killed by car
People visit a memorial at the intersection of South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue at at Faiss Park Wednesday, March 27, 2019, where Jonathan Smith, 12, of Las Vegas, died after he was struck while crossing Fort Apache Monday. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Couple left with surprise medical bills after visit to the hospital
Michael Pistiner took his wife, Marta Menendez-Pistiner, to the ER in January after she fainted twice and appeared to be having a seizure. Despite paying $856 monthly for health insurance, the two, self-employed musicians, were stuck with more than $5,700 in hospital and doctor bills after than hour-and-a-half visit. Caroline Brehman/Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Las Vegas police brief the media on fatal crash
Metropolitan Police Department Capt. Nick Farese addresses the media about a car accident at South Fort Apache Road and West Arby Avenue that left one minor dead and one hospitalized on Monday, March 25, 2019. (Mike Shoro/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Arbor View parent talks about racial issues at the school
Lawanna Calhoun, a former Arbor View parent, talks about the state of the school. (Amelia Pak-Harvey/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Jim Foley talks about 30 years of living HIV-positive
Jim Foley, who was diagnosed as HIV positive 30 years ago, talks at his home in Las Vegas on Wednesday, March 13, 2019. (Chase Stevens/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Traffic Slows to a Crawl on I-15S Near Primm
Traffic slowed to a crawl around 2:30p Sunday, on I-15S near Primm, Nevada.
Homeless residents speak about safety
The homeless residents living at the corner of Owens Ave. and Main St. reflect on how they feel about their safety after two homeless men died, one was hit crossing the street and another was beat to death by another homeless man. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
CCSD Superintendent address alleged racially motivated threats at Arbor View
CCSD Superintendent Dr. Jesus F. Jara gives update on alleged racially motivated threats against Arbor View High School, and says such threats will not be tolerated. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Super Bloom Near Lake Elsinore, California
Crowds packed the hills near Lake Elsinore on Saturday to capture a rare selfie amidst the super bloom of poppies turning the landscape purple. The super bloom was caused by the larger rainfall this year. (Todd Prince/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Fiery accident in Las Vegas
A three-car accident on Spring Mountain Road around 6:30 pm on Monday night
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice
A bipartisan coalition holds simultaneous rallies to promote criminal justice. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @bizutesfaye
Stardust implosion anniversary
Twelve years ago today, the Stardust Resort and Casino was imploded. (Mat Luschek/Review-Journal)
Lawsuits filed against security contractors at Nevada National Security Site
Two lawsuits were filed today against the current and former government security contractors for the Nevada National Security Site, one on behalf of Jennifer Glover who alleges sexual discrimination and assault and the other on behalf of Gus Redding who alleges retaliation after he gave statements supporting Glover’s claims. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
New housing option helps Las Vegas moms keep kids while kicking drugs
WestCare Nevada Women and Children’s Campus in Las Vegas has added a new transitional housing wing for women who have completed the inpatient treatment at the behavioral health nonprofit to help them as they go through outpatient treatment, shore up their finances and prepare to secure long-term housing. (K.M. Cannon/Las Vegas Review-Journal) @KMCannonPhoto
Teenager in critical condition after being struck by an SUV in Henderson
Authorities were called about 2:45 p.m. to the scene in the 2100 block of Olympic Avenue, near Green Valley Parkway and Sunset Road. The teenager was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. (Michael Quine/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Water Question Part 3: Conservation loves a crisis
Future growth in the Las Vegas Valley will rest almost entirely on the community’s ability to conserve its finite share of the Colorado River.
The Water Question Part 7: How much can we grow?
Many experts agree that Southern Nevada can continue to grow, so long as residents are willing to do what needs to be done to stretch our crucial resource as far as it will go.
The Water Question Part 6: How many people can Southern Nevada’s water sustain?
The number can swing wildly depending on a host of variables, including the community’s rates of growth, conservation efforts and the severity of drought on the Colorado River.
TOP NEWS
Home Front Page Footer Listing