EVERETT — Snohomish County prosecutors charged Erick N. Walker with second-degree murder Tuesday in connection with the fatal drive-by shooting of 15-year-old Molly Conley of Seattle.

The charge, filed in Everett District Court, does not prevent prosecutors from later filing a first-degree-murder charge against Walker in Superior Court, according to Snohomish County Prosecuting Attorney Mark Roe.

Roe said the investigation into the shooting spree last month, in which Walker is alleged to have shot Mary Clare (Molly) Conley and fired on nearly a dozen houses and cars in the Marysville and Lake Stevens area, is nowhere near concluded.

Should police obtain evidence that prosecutors say shows Walker fired his weapons at Conley with intentional “extreme disregard for human life,” he could face a first-degree-murder charge, Roe said.

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Walker, 27, was also charged
with five counts of second-degree assault and four counts of drive-by shooting.

Prosecutors had earlier said they planned to charge the 27-year-old Boeing employee with first-degree murder, but instead filed the second-degree-murder charge after a court hearing Tuesday in front of Everett District Court Judge Tam Bui.

Bui set bail at $5 million, as requested by prosecutors, and found there was enough evidence presented in the certification of probable cause to hold Walker for investigation in the assaults and the drive-by shootings.

However, Bui said she did not see enough evidence to support holding Walker on investigation of first-degree murder and ruled he be held on investigation of second-degree murder.

First-degree murder generally requires prosecutors to prove an element of premeditation or another aggravating factor, said Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Joan Cavagnaro. In Walker’s case, prosecutors said in their initial court documents that Walker, who is alleged to have killed Conley while firing into a group of six girls, showed “extreme indifference to human life” in his actions.

Second-degree — or felony — murder, however, requires prosecutors to prove only that a person committed a felony, such as pointing a weapon at another person, and that someone died as a result.

“We agreed with the detectives in the moment, but when we went back to the office, we said, ‘Well, the judge wears the black robe so at this point we will file felony murder,’ ” Cavagnaro said.

Roe said, “There was no point in going back to Judge Bui and trying to convince her to find probable cause for first-degree murder instead of second. We already had the bail we wanted, and this will have no effect on what we refile in Superior Court.”

Prosecutors in Snohomish County routinely initially file felony

charges in district court to uphold a suspect’s right to a timely bail hearing while also allowing law enforcement time to complete an investigation.

They have until July 19 to file charges in Superior Court.

Conley was an outstanding student at Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School, a gifted athlete and a girl of considerable compassion, according to relatives and friends. She was celebrating her birthday June 1 when she was shot in the neck while she and five friends were walking along a Lake Stevens road.

Several of her friends told investigators that the bullet that killed Conley appeared to have come from inside a dark-colored sedan that passed them as the shot was fired.

That same night, there were nearly a dozen other drive-by shootings, according to court documents. In addition, one witness reported seeing the shooting suspect hit a vehicle with his car, court documents say.

Prosecutors say investigators were led to Walker after collecting evidence from the car that had been damaged by the suspect’s vehicle, gathering ballistics from the shootings and mining car-registration information.

When investigators served a search warrant on Walker’s car, they found damage to his vehicle that was consistent with the hit-and-run reported by witnesses, according to the Sheriff’s Office.

In court documents, investigators say they found a $67 receipt from a local bar that was paid a short time before Conley was killed.

In addition, Roe said at Walker’s court hearing Tuesday that ballistics had matched five of the slugs recovered from the shooting scenes to two firearms taken from Walker’s home. The bullet that struck Conley has not been recovered.

The Sheriff’s Office says investigators do not believe anyone else was involved in the shootings and they still have not pinpointed a motive.

Walker is employed at Boeing in Everett and is a graduate of Stanwood High School and the ITT Technical Institute, according to his Facebook page. A few friends, most of whom asked not to be named, have said it would be completely out of character for Walker to have intentionally killed someone.

A woman who answered the door at Walker’s parents’ home on Camano Island on Tuesday declined to speak to a reporter.

Christine Clarridge: 206-464-8983 or cclarridge@seattletimes.com.

Information from Seattle Times archives is included in this report.