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Hunt for man who shot Reno judge focuses on California

CARSON CITY — With leads emerging in Northern California, law enforcement officials on Wednesday continued their manhunt for Darren Mack.

Mack, 45, is the prime suspect in Monday’s shooting of Washoe County Family Court Judge Chuck Weller, who in a statement said incidents in recent weeks had caused him concern for his safety and that of his family.

The Reno Police Department announced that a corporate credit card issued to Mack’s business, Palace Jewelry and Loan, was used at the Sacramento International Airport parking garage about 2:30 p.m. Monday, hours after Weller was shot in the chest and Mack’s estranged wife was stabbed to death. Mack, the cousin of former Las Vegas City
Councilman Michael Mack, is also suspected in the slaying of 39-year-old Charla Mack at his Reno townhome.

Weller, 53, was presiding over the couple’s contentious divorce proceedings, which have included disputes over alimony and assets.

Police said other pawnshop employees have access to the credit card, and they could not confirm that Mack was the person who had used it at the airport.

“We think it is a high probability he was there, but it was not a 100 percent confirmed sighting,” said Lt. Ron Donnelly of the Reno Police Department, adding that police were reviewing grainy surveillance video.

Mack has a student pilot’s license, and investigators say he might try to flee the country.

“Our understanding is that he would not be able to rent an aircraft by himself, but obviously that’s a concern that he could try to make a short hop out of the United States,” Donnelly said.

Mack owns a Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle, which is missing, Donnelly said. Police believe the high-powered rifle was used in the shooting of Weller.

In another development, Moraga, Calif., detectives said Mack might make contact with a person in that San Francisco Bay Area community. Police there went to the residence of Jeff Donner, a cousin of Mack, who had reported being telephoned by the suspect 15 minutes after Weller was shot. Law officers determined Mack had not been there.

Donner told reporters Wednesday that Mack’s “message was ‘If anything happens to me, please make sure that the true story about the injustices that are going on in that courtroom get out to the media and the public.’

“He was just obsessed with bringing this judge down. Not physically. I never heard anything like that, but by reputation,” Donner said.

He said Mack’s impression of Weller was that the judge was “very biased, very prejudiced, made decisions before he heard all the facts and was very unfair and very unjust.”

Donner said he was shocked by reports of the shooting because Mack is “just not a violent person.”

“If he is in fact responsible for this, it is totally out of character, and it is simply an example of somebody that has snapped,” he said, choking back tears.

“If Darren is listening, if he’s watching, we love him. We care about him, and we’ll do anything to assist him to bring him in,” he said. “My concern is that he’s going to get cornered someplace and the police are going to kill him.”

Meanwhile, Weller, through a spokesman, provided more details about the events leading up to his being shot at 11:06 a.m. Monday, as he stood near a window in his chambers on the third floor of the court building. The shot came from outside the building, across the Truckee River from Weller’s office.

A statement from Jim Denton, who ran Weller’s campaign for family court in 2004, said: “Before Chuck Weller hit the floor when he was shot on Monday, he was calling out for someone to get his wife on the phone and tell her to get the family out of the house.

“He believes it was (Weller’s administrative assistant) Annie Allison, also bleeding from shrapnel wounds, who got through to his wife, Roza, so that she could get to safety immediately.”

Weller’s concern for his family’s safety in their home was the result of incidents in the weeks preceding the shooting. One such incident involved the anonymous placement of an advertisement.

According to Weller, bikers starting showing up at his house at 7 a.m. on June 3 in answer to an advertisement promising an auction of an expensive Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The ad included his wife’s name and directions to their house. Weller didn’t own a Harley and never placed such an ad.

He contacted police and court security. They discovered that the ad was paid for in cash and anonymously.

Numerous times last week, Weller was awakened at night by his wife, who was alarmed by their dogs barking intensely.

When he was shot, Weller feared his family might be harmed by someone who knew where they lived.

In the ambulance, Weller provided the name of a man who reportedly started a blog attack on him a month or a month and a half ago.

Weller had been given the name by a member of a fathers’ advocacy group. This person told Weller that an angry man was starting a campaign against him, using friends, associates, the media and anonymous blogs to ruin the judge’s reputation.

That man, according to this source, was Mack.

Weller expressed gratitude to all the members of the community, including those who have appeared in his courtroom since he was sworn in in January 2005, who have expressed their support and concern.

The Weller family is being kept in a secure and undisclosed location. Weller was released from Washoe Medical Center on Tuesday.

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