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A City Goes On Lockdown When A Judge Is Shot Hours After A Domestic Violence Murder
An international manhunt ensued for a bodybuilder at the center of a contentious divorce.
Chaos ensued when a court judge was shot inside his courthouse chambers, sending investigators down a course of more bloodshed motivated by greed.
On June 12, 2006, at the Reno Municipal Courthouse in Nevada, Washoe County Family Court Judge Charles “Chuck” Weller was shot in the chest. Based on the bullet’s trajectory through Weller’s office window, investigators believed the shot came from a neighboring parking garage shortly after 11:00 a.m.
“There was absolute pandemonium,” now-retired Detective David Jenkins of the Reno Police Department told Oxygen's Blood & Money.
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An active shooter was on the loose, prompting road closures and SWAT Teams to sweep through the area. Locals huddled inside downtown businesses as helicopters soared above, with news of Judge Weller’s shooting quickly reaching the public.
As told by former Reno PD detective Ron Chalmers, "Nobody knew how many more shots would come." The motive was a mystery for detectives, who’d known about Weller and his good standing as a sitting judge and member of the Reno community.
As news of the shooting spread across the city, loved ones grew concerned when a woman named Charla Mack failed to return from dropping her young daughter off for a visit with Charla’s estranged husband, Darren Mack. According to Charla’s best friend, Chandra Mayer, Charla was supposed to visit her after the drop-off.
“Charla and I were stay-at-home moms together,” Mayer told Blood & Money. “She was mischievous; she loved a good, little prank. She was a hard worker. She was stubborn."
As for Darren Mack, he was a well-known figure in the community, according to Det. Chalmers. Darren ran Palace Jewelry & Loan with his parents, a buzzing pawn and jewelry shop in downtown Reno. Separate from owning more than half the business, Darren also had success as a competitive bodybuilder, having previously won the title of Mr. Nevada in the state championships.
News of Judge Weller’s shooting continued to circulate when a man named Dan Osborne — a high school friend of Darren Mack’s who’d been temporarily living at Darren’s Fleur de Lis townhome — contacted authorities. Osborne said that at around 9:00 a.m., a couple of hours before Judge Weller’s shooting, Charla dropped off the couple’s young daughter.
Osborne and the child went upstairs to watch television while Charla remained with Darren. Then, he heard the dog started agitatedly barking.
Osborne observed Darren rushing across the house with a towel over his hand and later saw blood when inspecting the frantic dog. The dog was uninjured, but fearing Darren’s actions and growing concerned for Charla’s wellbeing — coupled with news of Judge Weller’s shooting — Osborne took the child out of the home and soon called authorities.
“Mr. Mack had been actively practicing or training at distance rifle shooting,” Det. Jenkins learned.
Jenkins and Chalmers went to Darren's residence, but when Darren failed to answer the door, they went to the garage, noting blood droplets were outside the closed garage door. Osborne, the roommate, provided the entry code for law enforcement, and when they looked inside, they found a bloody body on the floor.
Charla Mack was pronounced dead on the scene, having sustained seven stab wounds, mainly to the neck.
“I just wish so badly that I would have been with her that morning, that I could have died for her,” Charla’s mother, Soorya Townley, tearfully told Blood & Money. “I don’t understand why I got to live, and she died, you know?”
Inside Darren’s townhouse, investigators found a double-edged knife believed to be the murder weapon, a car rental agreement for a 2006 Ford Explorer, and firearm ammunition. But most telling was a handwritten to-do list.
Items included going to a parking garage and “End problem.” For detectives, it established a link between Charla’s homicide and the shooting of Judge Weller.
Thankfully, despite Darren’s efforts, the shooting of Judge Weller did not lead to his death.
“I lay in a hallway bleeding as deputies administered first aid,” Judge Weller told Blood & Money. “It was terrible.”
A deeper look at possible connections between Charla’s murder and Weller’s attempted murder revealed that Weller oversaw the acrimonious divorce proceedings between the Macks. Charla filed for divorce after 10 years of marriage, reportedly fed up with Darren’s late-night lifestyle.
“It really upset her that he’d want to stay out ‘til four in the morning, wanting to go out to strip clubs,” said Townley. “So it was just drama, drama, drama.”
Presiding over the ugly divorce, Judge Weller ordered Darren to pay nearly $1 million to Charla, including a settlement of about $400,000 and $10,000 per month in alimony. Weller said he often brought litigants into chambers for their first meeting, owing to how Darren knew where to make the shot.
Investigators matched the ammo from Darren’s house to the bullet used to shoot Weller in the chest, and on June 13, 2006, a warrant was issued for Darren’s arrest, charging him with murder.
But by then, Darren was on the run.
“He was on the loose, so I was concerned,” said Judge Weller. “Normal life stopped. I didn’t go to work. I didn’t go to the grocery store. I didn’t go to my home.”
Cell phone data placed Darren leaving Nevada and heading toward California. Police also received a tip from a ticket agent at the Sacramento International Airport, claiming Darren approached the counter to purchase an airline ticket. Darren allegedly walked off after refusing to provide identification.
As Darren’s loved ones pleaded for his return, some fearful that he might self-harm, a pilot flying from Mexico to the United States reported seeing Darren at a Puerto Vallarta resort, nearly 2,000 miles south of Reno.
On June 19, 2006, Darren agreed to surrender, but only after making demands with the Washoe County District Attorney back in Nevada, including his desire to address the media to argue his case and a jail cell with access to the internet.
“He also wanted the death penalty,” said Det. Chalmers. “I believe that he saw himself as a martyr for the fathers who were in the family court system.”
But when Darren failed to surrender as planned, authorities arrested him on June 21 and returned him to Nevada two days later. On Sept. 13, 2006, at the Washoe County Courthouse in Reno, Darren pleaded not guilty to charges of murder and attempted murder.
With overwhelming evidence pointing to Darren for the crimes, Darren said he acted in self-defense, according to former prosecutor Judge Eagan Walker.
The trial was moved to Clark County in favor of an impartial jury, with proceedings beginning Oct. 24, 2007.
“The prosecution detailed in their opening statement that what motivated this murder was Mr. Mack’s displeasure with the money that he was going to be forced to pay in the divorce,” Walker told Blood & Money.
It was revealed in court that during the contentious divorce, Weller transferred ownership of the jewelry business to his parents, claiming to go from making $44,000 per month to $5,000, allegedly to avoid a hefty payout to Charla, according to Det. Chalmers. Victim Judge Weller saw through Darren’s devious plot when siding with Charla in court.
The defense, however, painted Charla as a physically abusive woman who was so violent that Darren resigned to carrying a gun with him when Charla came by with their child.
“The hardest part was listening to Darren’s defense attorneys talk about how horrible Charla was,” according to Townley, Charla’s mother. “She wasn’t an angel, but she definitely wasn’t what they depicted her to be.”
The defense claimed that on the morning of Charla’s murder, Charla allegedly demanded money and slapped Darren in the face as they heatedly discussed the divorce. The slap was so hard that, according to Darren — armed with a knife and gun for his own safety — the firearm fell out of his pants. A struggle ensued over the gun, resulting in Darren taking the knife and stabbing Charla to death.
The autopsy, however, contradicted Darren’s claims, revealing multiple defense wounds on the victim’s hands and arms.
On Oct. 30, 2007, legal proceedings began for the attempted murder charge for Judge Weller’s shooting. Damning video evidence was presented in court, showing Darren in the rented Ford Explorer on the morning of the shooting, driving into the parking garage at around 10:42 a.m. and leaving at 11:06 a.m., just one minute after the initial reports of the shooting made it to authorities.
“The defense claimed that he, as a result of the attack he faced with Charla Mack, had a moment of insanity when he went and shot Judge Weller,” according to Det. Chalmers.
But it was an uphill battle for the defense, given the previously discovered to-do list found in Darren’s home.
On Nov. 5, 2007, Darren made a surprise decision to request a plea deal, asking that they drop a deadly weapon enhancement on the first-degree murder charge, which would have saved him 20 years in prison if convicted. The prosecution agreed, and Darren pleaded guilty to first-degree murder and attempted murder with the use of a deadly weapon.
But soon, Darren fired his top-notch attorneys and sought to withdraw his plea. He requested he take the stand in his own defense, which he did on Jan. 16, 2008, in an attempt to take back the deal.
“Charla had threatened my life numerous, numerous times, as well as attacking me,” Darren told the court. “What happened was, after she was trying to kill me, we both went to the ground, she then got stabbed. And you gotta understand the state of mind was an instinct.”
With Charla’s loved ones watching, Darren cried on the stand.
“But the thing a lot of people don’t recognize is I lost a wife, too,” Darren stated. “And even though this happened, I still love Charla. I just couldn’t live with her and was afraid of her.”
If there existed any indecision about allowing Darren to withdraw his plea, it went out the window when his former attorney took the stand, only after Darren waived attorney-client privilege.
“The story Darren was telling his attorneys was that he was kneeling on her head as he listened to her bleed to death and gurgle out,” said Judge Walker. “You don’t get better contrary evidence of self-defense than that from the actor’s mouth.”
On Feb. 6, 2008, Darren Mack was sentenced to life with the possibility of parole after 20 years for Charla’s murder. For the attempted murder charges, he was also handed the max, to be served consecutively, meaning he will spend no less than 36 years behind bars.
“It brought me a sense of peace,” said Charla’s mother, Soorya Townley.
A wrongful death was filed against Darren later that year in Washoe County. Although Charla wouldn’t live to see her divorce-related payout, Darren was ordered to pay $590 million to Charla’s loved ones.
Charla and Darren’s daughter live with Charla’s mother today.
Judge Weller continues to work as a judge in the subsequent 17 years since the shooting.