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Bullets from drive-bys lead police to Wash. murderer

Over 4 weeks, detectives uncovered a gun purchase, ballistics evidence and car damage that linked a suspect to the shooting

By Steve Miletich and Christine Clarridge
The Seattle Times

EVERETT — The bullet that passed through 15-year-old Molly Conley on June 1 — instantly killing her as she walked with five friends on a Lake Stevens road — has yet to be found despite a meticulous search.

But even though Snohomish County investigators lacked that crucial piece of physical evidence, they painstakingly built a circumstantial case against Erick N. Walker in the Seattle girl's death, according to court papers made public on Monday.

Over four weeks, detectives uncovered a gun purchase, ballistics evidence and car damage that linked Walker to a string of similar shootings throughout Snohomish County the night Conley was killed.

"It took an incredible amount of investigative work to get us where we are today," the Sheriff's Office said in a statement which noted that detectives interviewed more than a dozen witnesses.

Walker, a Boeing employee turning 27 on Tuesday, remained in jail after being denied bail Monday during an appearance before a judge in Everett District Court.

Taken into custody Friday as he drove away from his Marysville home, Walker offered four different versions of his movements on the night of June 1, ultimately acknowledging he may have seen six girls walking along the road in Lake Stevens, sheriff's Detective Brad Pince wrote in a lengthy probable-cause statement.

As prosecutors prepared formal charges expected to be filed Tuesday, a portrait emerged of Walker as someone with no criminal history and a personal background seemingly at odds with his alleged actions.

Sheriff's officials said at a news conference Monday that a dozen detectives worked round-the-clock on the case, concluding that Walker, acting alone, randomly carried out at least 12 drive-by shootings as he drove around after drinking at an Everett pub.

Conley, a student at Seattle's Bishop Blanchet High School, was struck in the neck by a gunshot about 11:15 p.m. as she was celebrating her 15th birthday, which had occurred the day before.

Others in her group heard a "loud pop" as an approaching car, described by some of them as black, sped past them, according to the probable-cause statement.

The other shootings, mostly in the Lake Stevens area and Marysville, apparently occurred in the early-morning hours of June 2, detectives concluded.

Although Conley was the only person struck by gunfire, bullets were fired into homes, some into bedrooms where children and adults were sleeping, according to the statement. Parked cars also were hit, investigators say.

Five bullets recovered from various scenes were tested at the Washington State Patrol's crime lab, where they were determined to be .30 carbine caliber bullets.

Ballistics tests showed three were fired from the same gun and it appeared the other two came either from that weapon or another capable of using the same ammunition, according to the probable-cause statement.

Early in the investigation, detectives checking gun purchases at the Cabela's sporting-goods store in Tulalip discovered that Walker had, apparently before the shootings, purchased a Ruger Blackhawk handgun capable of firing .30 carbine caliber bullets.

Walker's Facebook page showed a similar firearm, as well as an M-1 carbine rifle capable of firing the same ammunition, the statement says.

After Walker's arrest, detectives armed with a search warrant recovered two Blackhawk revolvers from Walker's house, as well as a Cabela's receipt indicating he purchased one in March.

Detectives also found .30 carbine caliber spent casings and live ammunition, as well as an M-1 rifle seized from Walker's black Pontiac sedan, according to the statement.

According to the statement, black paint chips were recovered at the scene of a Marysville drive-by shooting where a witness saw the gunman's car strike a parked car and drive away.

Investigators connected Walker to a black 2006 Pontiac G6, and a check of a database maintained by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed the recovered paint chips could have come from a Pontiac.

On June 25, two detectives found Walker's car parked at the Boeing lot in Everett, where they reported seeing "clear body and paint damage to the front passenger side quarter panel of the vehicle," according to the probable-cause statement.

Digital images of the car showed the damage was consistent with the damage to the other car in Marysville, the statement said.
In addition, a passenger-side headlight on Walker's car appeared to have been replaced in the damaged area.

After his arrest, Walker told detectives his car had been damaged in the Boeing parking lot, and he offered four different versions of places he had been driving on June 1 and 2, including one account he changed when told his car had been seen in the Lake Stevens area, according to the statement.

He said, at one point, he drank two or three beers and two or three whiskeys at an Irish pub in Everett, court papers say.

During the search of Walker's home, detectives found a $67 receipt from the pub, signed by Walker, dated June?1 at 10:10 p.m., about an hour before Conley was shot.

Walker was booked into the Snohomish County Jail on suspicion of first-degree murder, five counts of second-degree assault stemming from the shots fired toward Conley's friends, and four counts of drive-by shooting.

Walker's Monday court appearance, at which he appeared via a video link from the jail, was continued until Tuesday after his attorney said he needed more time to examine the probable-cause statement.

Conley's father was in court but declined to speak to the media. The family had earlier released a statement that said, in part:
"As this tragedy unfolds we ask the media and public to recall the beauty, grace and love that is Molly. She inspired classmates, inspired teammates and opponents, and inspired her family to live better lives, to find hope in the midst of hardship, and to play the game — whether soccer, lacrosse, or life — with enthusiasm, determination, and joy."

As word of Walker's arrest spread, his friends couldn't fathom how he could end up being accused of committing such a crime.

"He was a nice guy, never aggressive," said Brian Lind, one of Walker's Stanwood High School classmates. "It doesn't make any sense."

Another friend, who did not want to be named, said Walker had a friendly sense of humor and loved drawing sketches of people, especially his co-workers.

The friend also said that the collection of guns displayed on Walker's Facebook page did not all belong to him. It was a conglomeration of the weapons he and some friends brought when they went shooting together, the friend said.

A co-worker, who also asked not to be named, said Walker worked as an assembly mechanic on the 777 line.

On his Facebook page, Walker said he graduated from Stanwood High School and ITT Technical Institute.

He listed his interests as poetry, music, dancing, singing and laughing, science fiction and the works of Edgar Allan Poe and Mary Shelley.

One friend posted a message of unconditional support for Walker on Facebook: "May peace be with you, my brother."

Attached to that post is a picture with a caption saying: "Your shortcomings, your lack of self-esteem, physical perfection, or social and economic success — none of that matters. No one can take this love away from you, and it will always be here."

Seattle Times staff reporters Alexa Vaughn and Melissa Allison and news researcher Miyoko Wolf contributed to this story.

Copyright 2013 The Seattle Times

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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