The long sentence comes despite the fact that Erick Walker was convicted of manslaughter, not first-degree murder. John Conley, father of the slain Seattle teen, told the judge: “This whole thing has broken our family.”
EVERETT — A Snohomish County judge handed down the harshest sentence he could Tuesday for the man convicted of killing 15-year-old Molly Conley during a drive-by-shooting spree nearly two years ago.
Superior Court Judge Thomas Wynne sentenced 28-year-old Erick Walker to nearly 91 years and ordered him to forfeit 14 firearms Walker’s parents had hoped to sell to help pay for their son’s defense.
“Anyone who seeks to instill fear in the community … should be considered a terrorist,” Wynne said before a courtroom filled with Conley’s friends and relatives. “Mr. Walker, this court considers you a terrorist.”
Walker’s shooting spree started in Lake Stevens late on June 1, 2013, when he fired a revolver out the window of his car, shooting Conley in the neck as she and a group of friends walked along Lake Stevens Road.
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He later shot up houses in Lake Stevens and Marysville where lights and TVs could be seen from the street, his bullets narrowly missing the people inside, including a 15-year-old girl in one home and two young children in another.
Wynne said he was convinced Walker went on his shooting spree “to enhance your own sense of empowerment. That is, to make yourself feel important.”
Originally charged with first-degree murder for Conley’s death, Walker instead was convicted of first-degree manslaughter by a jury. He was also convicted of four counts of first-degree assault and five counts of drive-by shooting.
The manslaughter and assault convictions are to be served concurrently, with each carrying a firearms enhancement that requires Walker to serve 25 years without earning any “good time,” the judge said. Even if one-third of the remainder of Walker’s sentence is shaved off for good time, he will still spend 69 years in prison.
Defense attorney Mark Mestel, who challenged the way Walker’s sentence was calculated and argued that three of the assault charges constituted the same criminal conduct as three of the five drive-by-shooting charges, said Walker plans to appeal his convictions.
Mestel had sought a sentence of just under 59 years. He told the judge he advised Walker not to speak during sentencing, and when Wynne questioned whether Walker wanted to waive his right to elocution, Walker gave a one-word reply:
“Correct,” he said.
Mestel also argued against the state’s motion that Walker forfeit 14 firearms seized by police from his house and car when he was arrested on June 28, 2013. He said Walker’s parents had hoped to sell them to recoup some of their son’s legal fees. Walker’s mother was in court for the sentencing but left without making any comment.
Snohomish County Deputy Prosecutor Ed Stemler said Walker targeted Conley and her friends in “a random act just to hurt or kill someone, which he accomplished.” After going to Arlington to play pool, Walker returned to the Marysville area and continued his shooting spree, said Stemler, noting it “was a miracle” no one else was hurt.
More than 100 people submitted letters to the court, “each one more heartbreaking than the last,” detailing the loss and fear Walker’s crimes had caused, he said.
“Her death impacted an awful lot of people and it was frightening to everyone in Lake Stevens (and Marysville) in the month before the defendant’s arrest,” Stemler said.
John Conley, Molly’s father, said he was sitting in his living room, waiting to pick up his eldest daughter from her senior prom while his youngest child “was being hunted in Lake Stevens.”
“This whole thing has broken our family,” he said. “The fact I am standing with my back to a person with a blank stare, a person who slaughtered my daughter … is brutal, just brutal.”
Conley, a freshman at Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School, was celebrating her birthday when she was shot. Two of her friends told investigators that the gunshot that killed Conley appeared to have come from a dark-colored car that passed them.
Later that same night there were nearly a dozen other drive-by shootings, according to police and prosecutors.
In addition, one witness reported seeing the presumed shooter’s car hit another vehicle before driving off. Black paint chips were recovered from the scene, as well as pieces of a broken headlight.
Investigators determined that the paint chips could have come from a black Pontiac G6, the kind of car driven by Walker.
When investigators served a search warrant on Walker’s car, they found damage consistent with the hit-and-run reported by witnesses, prosecutors said. Police later recovered a piece of Walker’s broken headlight from his father, and the jagged edge perfectly fit the piece of headlight left at the crash scene.
Detectives also learned Walker owned two Ruger Blackhawk firearms that used the same type of bullets as those recovered from the drive-by shooting scenes.
Ballistics testing determined that eight of the .30 carbine-caliber slugs recovered after the drive-by shootings matched two of the firearms taken from Walker’s home.
The bullet that struck Conley, which passed through the teen’s neck, was never recovered.
Conley’s mother, Susan Arksey, said Tuesday the judge already knows from her testimony at trial how much she loved her daughter “and how hard it is every day to live without her.”
Arksey said that from the time her daughter was 9 years old, she studied diligently with an eye on her future.
“Even as a child, she worked hard. She wanted her life … and was excited for her life,” Arksey said. “She didn’t have the chance to live the life she wanted so much.”