Just four minutes after Reno family court Judge Chuck Weller was shot and wounded in a sniper attack, a pawnshop owner accused of fatally stabbing his wife made a chilling phone call to his cousin in Moraga.
"If anything happens to me, don't forget your promise -- put out to the press the word on Judge Weller," Darren Roy Mack, 45, told Jeff Donner on Monday. "The rest of the world has to know just how oppressive he is."
"That was it," Donner, 64, recalled Wednesday. "Before I could ask a question, he said, 'Jeff, I gotta go.' "
Now Reno police have an arrest warrant for Mack in the slaying of his wife. Authorities also want to question him in the shooting of Weller, who had been handling Mack's divorce case. The judge was released from a hospital Wednesday.
Jim Denton, a spokesman for Weller, said Wednesday that Mack had apparently engaged in a campaign on the Internet to ruin the judge's reputation. In recent weeks, someone placed an ad promising an auction of an expensive Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The ad, which included Weller's wife's name and their address, brought bikers to their home at 7 a.m. on a Saturday.
"It underscores how dangerous it is for jurists to do their jobs, and I think it also underscores that a lot of people cannot handle what are life-altering changes such as divorce," Denton said.
Donner described his cousin as "the kindest, gentlest, nonviolent person you would ever want to meet." He added, "He's a loving father, a good man. Obviously, if he's responsible for this -- and there's every indication that he is -- you're looking at a man of the finest character who was made to snap and break."
Asked about the slaying of Mack's estranged wife, Charla, 39, Donner said he believed his cousin may have killed her in self-defense. "Their divorce was as acrimonious and as nasty as any divorce could possibly be," he said. "I don't think they could be in the same city and be civil to each other. It's very possible that she attacked him."
Authorities have found no sign of Mack in the Bay Area. Asked if police believe Mack is headed to Moraga, Sgt. Robert Priebe said, "We do not believe that he is."
Mack is being sought on an arrest warrant charging him with murder with the use of a deadly weapon in the killing of his wife, whose body was found Monday lying face down in a pool of blood in a Reno home where he had been living, according to a police affidavit. Court records said Mack killed his wife, who had suffered stab wounds to her chest and neck, with "premeditation and deliberation." Police found an empty sheath for a dagger on the floor of the master bedroom closet, the records said.
On Tuesday, Reno police contacted their counterparts in Moraga and asked them not to contact Donner but instead go to his home to see if Mack was there. Moraga police did so, and found no sign of Mack then or since, Priebe said. On Wednesday, Donner went to the Moraga Police Department, where he called Reno police and told them what he knew, Priebe said.
Authorities throughout the state are being told to look out for Mack and the car he might be driving, a 2006 silver Ford Explorer with California license plate 5POR272.
"We received the BOLO (be on the lookout) on (Tuesday) and all of our deputies in the field have been alerted," said Jimmy Lee, spokesman for the Contra Costa County sheriff's office.
Until 2002, Mack and his estranged wife had worked for San Francisco-based Landmark Education, a global company that offers motivational training seminars and is a descendant of Werner Erhard's est movement, according to a San Leandro woman who knew the couple.
Vidda Chan, a 57-year-old spiritual counselor, said her daughter was a staffer four to five years ago at a training course in San Francisco led by Mack, who traveled extensively to lead the courses. In 2002, Charla Mack was a member of a group sent to the Philippines to launch the intense and highly orchestrated seminars there, said Chan, who also made the trip.
Landmark Education "was a big part of their lives," Chan said. Of the accusations against Mack, she said, "I know these two as being very upstanding people in the community and both very involved in a personal development course that has made a difference in so many communities. It doesn't make sense to me -- it's not who I know them to be."
Mack is described as Caucasian with brown hair and brown eyes, 5-foot-11 and 190 to 220 pounds. Investigators said Mack may be armed and has training in the use of firearms.