No deals for Mack
Associated Press Writer
RENO – A wealthy former pawn shop owner, accused of killing his wife and shooting the judge handling their divorce, was back in Reno on Friday night after 11 days on the lam, authorities said.
A bearded Darren Mack, 45, was escorted under high security from an armored vehicle into the Washoe County Jail at 11:51 p.m.
With law enforcement officers closing in on him in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, Mack negotiated his surrender to U.S. authorities – and perhaps squandered a chance to avoid a death penalty charge.
Had he turned himself in at a Mexican police station, he likely would not be back on U.S. soil and facing a possible death sentence.
Mack surrendered late Thursday to the FBI and Mexican police at a resort on the Pacific Coast and by Friday morning he was in Dallas.
Mack left Dallas on a flight to Reno at about 6:30 p.m.
Because Mexico opposes the death penalty, Mack might have been able to negotiate a guarantee from prosecutors to spare his life as part of his return, legal experts said.
“International law has many tentacles,” said Trace Robbers, spokesman for the National Judicial College in Reno. “Due to the agreements between our two countries, there were some options available to him regarding his surrender and possible consequences.”
Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick, who has known Mack for 20 years, said no deals – and no decision – have been made on whether Mack will face the ultimate sentence if convicted of the June 12 stabbing death of his wife, Charla, and the attempted murder of Family Court Judge Chuck Weller.
“We’re not there yet,” Gammick said, who will not handle the prosecution. “This case will be handled like every other murder case in the county.”
Charla Mack’s body was found in a pool of blood in Mack’s town house garage June 12, hours after Weller was shot in the chest while standing by the window of his courthouse office.
Mack’s Reno attorney, Scott Freeman, said he and co-counsel David Chesnoff of Las Vegas are “eager” to begin a defense.
Freeman, who arranged with the district attorney’s office for Mack to turn himself in, said Mack “chose to voluntarily surrender.”
“He did so to be with his family, his children and to defend himself,” Freeman said.
It wasn’t known how Mack traveled to Mexico or how long he’s been there. Poehlman said investigators were still looking for a rented 2006 Ford Explorer he was driving for possible evidence.
Mack’s surrender came after cooperation between the FBI and Mexican authorities, who established checkpoints and were searching buses and bus stations after learning Mack was traveling by public transportation, authorities said.
“The arrest of accused killer Darren Roy Mack proves that criminals cannot find a safe haven on either side of the border,” Tony Garza, the U.S. ambassador to Mexico, said in a statement released by the U.S. Embassy in Mexico City.
Poehlman said intense media coverage on both sides of the border helped investigators and persuaded Mack to turn himself in.
“We believe he was aware that things were tightening around him,” Poehlman said.
On Thursday, authorities said Mack was believed to be on Mexico’s west coast and had been spotted by a swimming pool at a resort in Cabo San Lucas. He had arranged to surrender Thursday morning at the U.S. consulate in Puerto Vallarta, but didn’t show up.
Mack contacted Gammick earlier this week and “expressed a desire to surrender,” according to Poehlman.
Gammick said Mack’s lawyers called him about 5 p.m. Thursday, and new arrangements were made for his surrender later that night.
Gammick said there’s no evidence anyone else was involved in the stabbing of Charla Mack or the shooting of Weller, but authorities don’t know if Mack had help fleeing the country.
Weller was shot in the chest from three football fields away. He was released from the hospital last week and is recovering at an undisclosed location under guard.
In a brief statement issued after Mack’s capture, Weller said he and his family are grateful “this tragedy has been resolved in a peaceful manner without further bloodshed.”
A custody hearing in the Macks’ contentious divorce case was scheduled before Weller in September.
At a Friday news conference, Charla Mack’s mother, Soorya Townley, and brother, Christopher Broughton, praised law enforcement and thanked the community for its support.
“We are greatly relieved he’s been apprehended without further bloodshed,” Broughton said. “We look forward to justice being served for Charla’s murder and the shooting of Judge Weller.
“Nothing will bring my sister back. However, we don’t have to look over our shoulders the rest of our lives,” he added.
Mack was a co-owner of Palace Jewelry & Loan Co. Inc., a pawn shop, until he turned over control in 2005 to his mother, a lawyer for the business said. Mack earned more than $500,000 a year and had a net worth of $9.4 million as recently as 2004, according to court documents.
The FBI added Mack to its list of “Most Wanted” fugitives Tuesday, the same day Charla Mack, 39, was buried.
A search warrant affidavit said officers found several boxes of ammunition and an empty gun case with a receipt for a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle equipped with a laser sighting device at Mack’s town house.