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48 Hours Caught in The Crossfire 02.24.07

Run Dates


02.24.07 48 Hours Caught in The Crossfire

06.12.07 48 Hours Caught in The Crossfire

Caught In The Crossfire
Who Is To Blame For A Wife's Death And A Judge's Shooting?

(CBS) Feb. 24, 2007 - On June 12, 2006, the people of Reno, Nev., were glued to their televisions following the brazen shooting of Family Court Judge Chuck Weller.

"My thoughts immediately turned towards Charla and her whereabouts," remembers Ann Mudd, who along with Christine Libert, desperately tried to reach their friend Charla Mack.

The two women were convinced Charla was in danger; their fears were confirmed when they later heard on the news their friend had been murdered.

"That was probably the scariest moment in my entire life just to realize that my beautiful friend wasn't there any more," Christine remembers.

What led to the shooting of Judge Weller and the murder of Charla Mack? And was there a connection between the two cases? Troy Roberts reports on the investigation and what detectives believe may have led to the violence.


Darren Mack, a handsome and successful businessman, married Charla in 1995 in Reno. From the beginning, everyone says they had a chemistry that was undeniable.

"I think when you saw the two of them walk into a room, they were explosive together. Charla just fired him up. She was fire," explains writer Amanda Robb, who reported on the Mack case for Marie Claire magazine. "They were high profile in the community they knew everybody. Everybody knew them."

Amanda and Charla attended the same high school in Reno.

"She wanted to be famous more than anything that really was her dream…was to be famous," says Robb.

Long before Charla ever met Darren Mack, she pursued her dream of an acting career. Leaving Reno behind, the teenager moved to Los Angeles, where she landed two roles—one in a film with Drew Barrymore, the other in a documentary with Diane Keaton.

Charla eventually gave up acting and moved back to Reno. When she started dating Darren Mack, they seemed a perfect match. Friends say they also shared an interest in a self-awareness training group called Landmark Education.

"He was really into self improvement. He liked going to seminars about improving himself all the time. Achieving his goals. Which was money, money, money," says writer Amanda Robb.

Darren Mack is the oldest son of a wealthy and prominent Reno family; his parents owned one of the largest pawn shop in the city. When his father was killed in a plane crash in 1986, Darren became half owner of the family business and, according to court records, was said to be worth almost $10 million.

"They lived large. I mean there's no doubt about it. She drove a Lexus, he drove a Hummer. They had fancy things, fancy jewelry," says Robb. "It was fabulous."

But Darren Mack had been down the aisle before. Darren and his ex-wife Debbie had two children together but the marriage did not end well. "He would not stop fighting with Debbie. She spent more than a quarter of a million dollars in legal fees just responding to him," says Robb, who knows Debbie. "And Charla was on his side at the time."

Darren had joint custody and for a while at least, he, Charla, and his kids seemed to be one big happy family.

But their clean cut family image was a far cry from their private lives. Christine says her friend Charla was a very sexual person, without sexual inhibitions—
something she shared with Darren.

"They became sort of a fixture on the strip club circuit in and around Reno," Robb explains. "It moved up into swinging. They actually went to swinger conventions in California, Arizona and Mexico where there'd be group sex parties. They called it 'sexing.'"

But things changed after their daughter, Erika, was born in 1997.

"Erika had a very normal life with her mother—movies, play dates, sleepovers, parties. That was Charla's life, was to make Erika's life so beautiful and so fulfilled with kid things," remembers Charla's friend Ann.

Charla told Darren she was no longer interested in swinging. As the marriage began to crumble, letters and e-mails 48 Hours obtained document an increasingly abusive relationship.

"I have told you consistently if you didn’t stop physically and verbally attacking me I would divorce you," one correspondence read.

But it wasn’t Charla who claimed to be the victim. It was Darren.

"He kept a diary, in which he said she kicked him in the testicles, but missed, she scratched his car, she yelled at him on the phone. Oh, yes. She belittled him in front of his friends, went on, and on and on for six pages like this," says Robb.

Darren’s friend Michael Small says that despite his imposing stature, Darren Mack lived in fear. "He was very scared of her. I was with him a couple of times when she called and threatened him."

Small says a big part of Darren's desire to end the marriage was the alleged abuse. "It’s a known fact that he carried a gun right here because he was worried she was gonna come kill him," he tells Roberts.

But Charla was apparently looking over her shoulder, too. "He showed up at the house where she and Erika were and they had some kind of confrontation. And he had her by the neck and was trying to strangle her," says Ann.

In the end, it was Charla who filed for divorce and Darren moved out. The couple fought constantly over Erika but fought even more over money, which Darren claimed was running out.

Family Court Judge Chuck Weller ordered Darren to pay Charla $10,000 a month until the divorce was settled. But Darren thought the ruling, and the judge, were unfair.

Just after 11 a.m. on June 12, 2006, bystanders in downtown Reno heard a loud bang echo off the buildings.

Detective Ron Chalmers joined hundreds of police officers to shut down the city, while swat teams fanned out searching for what they believed was a sniper.

"You're looking up. You're checking buildings. We could at least narrow down the area the shot came from because the bullet went through a glass window," Chalmers remembers.

"People were hiding in different businesses and restaurants, trying to get people off the street because they didn’t know if the shooter was still shooting," recalls Reno Gazette Journal reporter Martha Bellisle, who rushed to the scene.

It turned out only one bullet was fired that morning, exploding through the window of Judge Weller and spraying him and his assistant with shrapnel.

It was just minutes after the shooting when police got a break from a phone call.

The caller was Dan Osborne, a childhood friend of Darren Mack’s, and he had a disturbing story to tell.

Osborne told police he had been at Darren's home that morning when Charla dropped off their daughter. He and Erika stayed upstairs while Darren spoke to Charla privately.

"Downstairs somehow Darren lured Charla into the garage," says Robb. "The daughter upstairs heard a dog yelping and told Darren’s friend 'I think your dog is yelping.'"

After the frantic barking continued, Osborne told police he went to check on his dog. That’s when he ran into Darren coming out of the garage. Osborne said Darren brushed past him with a weird look, his hand wrapped in a towel, and that he didn’t say a word.

"Few moments later, the dog came in, covered in blood," says Det. Chalmers.

"He became incredibly frightened and said to the little girl 'We have to leave.' They left," Robb explains.

Osborne put Erika in his car and started driving; minutes later, his cell phone rang. It was Darren.

"And Darren says 'Meet me at Starbucks.' The friend, who is completely flipped out at this point, meets him at Starbucks with the little girl," Robb tells Roberts.

Mack took his daughter aside and spoke to her for a few minutes and then drove off on his own.

"If he thought that maybe Charla had been injured that morning, why would he allow Darren Mack to see his little girl?" Roberts asks Chalmers.

"Well I think that Dan Osborne felt that he probably owed Darren Mack some gratitude. He was an employee for the Mack family. Whether it's poor judgment or not, he chose to allow Darren to see his daughter," the detective replies.

Based on Osborne's story, police rushed to Darren's condo. "As we looked around the property a little closer, we found three droplets of blood in the driveway near the garage door," Chalmers remembers.

Behind that garage door was Charla Mack’s lifeless body. According to writer Amanda Robb, Charla was found wearing no shoes or socks and was stabbed seven times.

A search of Darren's condo turned up incriminating evidence, including a note that on closer inspection police believed to be a chilling step-by-step guide for the day's bloody events. The media dubbed it "Darren’s to-do list."

"It refers to 'ending the problem.' And then, it also referred to certain weapons that he would need to fulfill those plans," Chalmers explains.

Police also found a rental contract for a silver Ford Explorer, and a crucial piece of the puzzle that tied everything together –the list had the phrase "parking garage if yes."

Police reviewed surveillance video of the garage across from Weller's office. At 10:41 a.m., just 20 minutes before Weller was shot, a silver Ford Explorer was photographed entering the parking garage.

48 Hours retraced the path police believe the explorer took that day.

Police believe the shooter's vehicle pulled into the parking garage, drove up to the fifth floor and backed in so the rear of the vehicle was facing the justice center.

We know that the judge was shot at about 11:05 a.m.; the video surveillance camera shows the Ford Explorer’s rear hatch being closed at 11:05 and then the vehicle left the parking garage.

"It would take some skill as a marksmen to shoot that distance and hit that target," Roberts remarks to Det. Chalmers.

"It would take some skill," the detective agrees. "But Darren Mack has an extensive history in hunting."

Within hours, news reports broadcast that Darren Mack was not only the prime suspect in the Weller shooting but was also a target in the murder investigation of his estranged wife, Charla.

But 45-year-old Darren Mack was nowhere to be found.

While Judge Weller was being treated for his wounds at a local hospital, a nationwide search was underway. Mack decided to head south.

His cousin, Jeff Donner, even went on television to make an impassioned plea; Darren had called Donner just minutes after Judge Weller was shot.

"If Darren is listening, if he’s watching, we love him and we care about him," he told reporters. "If he is responsible for this, he snapped, he broke… .. The press needs to ask what went wrong in that courtroom...that would make a good loving caring person like this possibly snap."

That courtroom belonged to Judge Chuck Weller. And what went wrong—in Darren Mack’s mind—was just about everything.

"He felt Weller wasn’t listening. He also felt that Charla’s attorney was lying about everything he was filing. But Weller was letting him get away with it," explains Michael Small, one of Darren's closest friends.

Small and Mack had a lot in common: both men were in the midst of bitter custody fights. And both men appeared before Judge Weller. Small says his own experience in Weller's courtroom sheds light on Darren's intense frustration.

"I think I understand what he’s going through, inside of him, better than anyone out there," says Small.

Weller ordered Small to return his son to Florida where his ex wife lives, an arrangement Small said would put the child at risk. But a Florida judge had already rejected that claim.

Judge Weller's hands were tied – he said his court did not have jurisdiction in this case. When Small missed the deadline to return the boy, a Florida judge threw him in jail for 45 days.

The former actor was left to stew about family court in general and Weller in particular, a sentiment shared by Darren Mack. Both men were losing, both men blamed Judge Weller, and both men started a campaign against him.

"We felt that something big did have to happen in order for people to know what was going on in order to shed light on the situation," Small says

"Something big like what? Like a judge being shot?" Roberts asks.

"No," Small says. "We never talked about that. We never thought about that, we never wanted anyone to get hurt."

Clearly, Weller was not a popular judge. According to a tally kept by the local bar association – lawyers when given the choice – chose to get Weller off their case.

"Judge Weller had twice as many preemptory challenges as the other family court judges," says the Reno Gazette's Martha Bellilse, who specializes in legal affairs for her newspaper.

Asked what kind of criticism she has heard about Judge Weller, Bellisle says, "That he tended to make decisions quickly, wouldn’t hear both sides."

But being unpopular and having a bias are two different things. Bellisle she doesn't know if there is any evidence the judge made rulings that were more favorable to women. "To the best of my knowledge, I don’t know that he had any bias," she says.

Just two weeks after the shooting, Judge Weller had recovered and held a press conference but he wouldn’t address the Mack case.

"In every case, as much as we try to avoid it, often times there are winners and losers," he told reporters. "My job is to go into the courtroom and decide cases without bias and that’s what I've striven to do the entire time that I've been on the bench."

Dean Tong was part of Darren Mack’s divorce legal team and says Mack had said Weller was a "anti-father's rights judge."

Tong also says Darren was a difficult client. "He seemed like a guy who would have trouble listening to others. He wanted to basically call the shots," he remembers.

Tong, who specializes in custody issues, warned Darren there are certain things that just won’t sit well with any judge when it comes to deciding who gets custody. "He wanted to still continue to do what he was doing, which was the sex swinging on the side," Tong explains.

Tong says he explained to his client that his extra-curricular activities could jeopardize the case.

Mack's response? "He took a deep breath and said 'Well you know, we’ll address it. We’ll talk about it,'" Tong tells Roberts.

Apparently Darren didn’t take the warning seriously. In fact, he later took a trip to the famous Moonlite Bunny Ranch, a legal, licensed brothel, to celebrate his impending divorce

But back at home the party was over.

"When it comes to court, people are very naïve. They don’t understand until it hits them on paper that a judge can alter your life in a New York minute. And that’s what happened here," says Tong.

Judge Weller had repeatedly asked Darren and Charla to try to reach some kind of financial agreement on their own, so he wouldn’t be forced to do it for them. They did hammer out a deal, but when that fell apart the judge stepped in and ordered Darren to pay up.

"He had to pay her a lump sum of $480,000, out of which she was supposed to buy a home and a car. And then over the next five years, she was supposed to receive $10,000 a month in spousal support," Robb explains.

Michael says the ruling left his friend Darren disillusioned and frightened. "Could not believe this was happening. He was about to lose a lot of his money," he says.

Darren was ordered to make that payment of close to half a million dollars to Charla, but soon after that hearing she was dead.

Asked if he thinks Weller's rulings against Darren pushed him over the edge, Michael says, "I can’t say Darren did this. Do I think Judge Weller's rulings added to all that is enough to push someone over the edge? One hundred percent. Yes sir. "

Four days after Charla's murder, there was still no sign of Darren Mack. His daughter Erika was now safely in hiding, but Charla's friends were still on edge

Mark Phillips was Charla’s boyfriend at the time of her death, and admits he feared he might be the next target.

Asked what he did to protect himself, Phillips tells Roberts, "I always had the shade drawn in my house. I would walk through the backyard to see if there were any disturbances before I went inside…. Always had everything double-locked."

While the people of Reno were lying low, Darren Mack was living large at a resort in San Jose del Cabo, Mexico. It was familiar territory for Darren; he had been there a year earlier for a swinger’s convention.

Newspaper reporter Martha Bellilse went to Mexico to retrace Darren’s steps and met hotel employee Virginia Delgadillo, who said she met a man fitting Darren’s description last June

Virginia had no idea the guest flirting with her in the gym was a wanted man. "He was looking at me like (makes face like he’s checking her out) and just standing here and just like what is your name or something," she remembers.

Mack’s aggressive come on also caught the attention of another guest in the gym.

"There was a pilot who had also stayed at the same resort and was working out at the gym," Det. Chalmers explains. "He said the man was extremely arrogant and cocky and continuously was flirting with the young female employee."

When that pilot flew back to the states, he gave authorities the break they were looking for. "He saw the national media coverage of Darren Mack and believed that was the same person he’d see in Cabo San Lucas," says Chalmers.

The pilot called the FBI, but by the time agents got to the resort Darren was long gone, heading across the Sea of Cortez to another sunny Mexican shore.

Reno investigators, working with the FBI, were tracking Mack across Mexico, but he always managed to remain one step ahead. Then exactly one week after he disappeared, Darren Mack shocked everyone by offering to surrender

Mack called Dick Gammick, Reno's district attorney, who is a long-time Mack family friend. "He did express confidence to me that he called me because I'm the only one he trusts in the system," Gammick explained during a press conference.

While still in hiding, Darren also retained two high-priced defense attorneys, David Chesnoff and Scott Freeman.

They took over the surrender negotiations.

Neither Chesnoff, nor Freeman, would say Mack had killed his wife Charla.

"That’s not in dispute, is it?" Roberts asked.

"I think everything in this case is in dispute," Freeman replied.

What’s not in dispute is that they see Darren as a man pushed to the limit.

A series of e-mails Mack was sending while he was still on the run reveal a disturbing picture of this man. For example, in one message he holds himself up as a martyr for the father's rights movement saying, "remember, they want me as a sacrificial lamb. They want the pleasure of executing me.”

In the same vain, he later writes that his story must get attention "To save the hundreds of thousands yet to go through little Nazi Germany in the divorce industry."

Asked what that suggests to him, Chesnoff tells Roberts, "I mean if that isn’t a clear example to a lawyer, or my colleague to have a psychiatric analysis of our client which I believe this calls out for that’s what I make of that."

On June 22, 11 days after that violent rampage that shook the city of Reno, police anxiously awaited the surrender of the man they believe to be responsible for the murder of Charla Mack and the shooting of Judge Chuck Weller.,

There was a question whether Darren Mack would give up without a fight, but in the end, the millionaire fugitive quietly turned himself in at a luxury hotel in Puerto Vallarta.

Mack’s last night was spent in a stark Mexican jail cell—a dramatic reversal of fortune for a man who was accustomed to living the high life.

What prompted Darren Mack to surrender?

"The only thing that I can think of is that he was obsessed with exposing what he believed were Judge Weller's injustices," says Det. Chalmers.

Darren Mack was carrying $36,000 in cash, 20 credit cards and a suitcase full of evidence.

"A pair of shoes with some blood spatter, some other clothing with what appeared to be blood stains were in the suitcase," explains Chalmers.

Chalmers says the blood stains on the clothing were analyzed and that the DNA profile matched Charla Mack.

Darren Mack, charged with the murder of his wife and the attempted murder of Judge Weller, has pled not guilty

Mack's attorneys say this may be a case of self defense. "If our investigation shows that this woman was violent and could get angry and do things that were inappropriate, that may actually raise the question of self-defense," explains David Chesnoff.

But Charla's friend Christine Libert tells Roberts, "She would never try to attack Darren or do anything like that. Even if she would, which I don't think she ever would, she would certainly have never even considered it with her daughter around. Ever. Period. It just wouldn't have happened."

Mack's attorneys may raise questions about his state of mind. "In conversations we’ve had with our client we are concerned that he isn’t grasping all the various legal issues that are required to be grasped to fully assist us in what we need to do in this case," says Scott Freeman.

Asked if Mack is mentally competent, Chesnoff says, "It's not for lawyers or prosecutors to decide… it’s for experts."

But an insanity defense could be a hard sell, given they will need to work around that so-called "to-do list."

Asked what he thinks of the list, Chesnoff says "I'd have to know who wrote it before I could tell ya."

"You don't think Darren wrote this?" Roberts asked.

"I didn't say that," Chesnoff replies. "But I don't know who wrote it. And until I know who wrote it, how could I possibly speculate as to what the meaning of it was?"

The much-anticipated murder trial will not get underway until later this year, and Mack’s attorneys say they’ll spare no expense to defend their client

Chesnoff says Mack's net worth is zero and that he is in bankruptcy. But the lawyers are not taking the case pro bono. "He has a lotta friends and family that care about him," Chesnoff says.

Eight months after the violent events of that June morning, many still wrestle with the fallout, like custody litigation expert Dean Tong.

"What has this case done to the father's rights movement in this country?" Roberts asks Tong.

"And it's certainly slapped me in the face," Tong says. "How dare you be a martyr for this, for what we've worked so hard for."

But Michael Small, released from jail and back home with his new wife and family in Reno, disagrees with Tong. "Do I think the movement has been set back? Just the opposite. I think it’s just going to go forward and be more in the forefront,” he says.

Darren Mack, though now behind bars, still sees himself as a father’s rights advocate. His daughter Erika regularly visits him in jail and is currently living with Charla's mother.

Charla's friends Ann and Christine says Erika doesn't like to talk about her mom, but knows the circumstances surrounding the murder and that her father has been charged with the killing.

"She also hears a lot of comments from Darren's friends and family that try to instill doubt in her mind. And so, now she has made the comment, 'Well, we don't know if my daddy killed my mommy.' She said, 'Maybe the cat did it,'" says Ann.

Erika is now nine. While prosecutors will try to avoid it, Erika may be called to testify against her father at his murder trial.

"I think that Erika should know that her mother wanted nothing more than to raise Erika. Erika was her number one joy in life," says Christine. "And her not being here has nothing to do with her not wanting to be here. She wanted to raise her and watch her grow and be a part of her life forever."


Prosecutors will not seek the death penalty. Both of Erika's grandmothers are fighting for custody.









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