By Scott North Herald Writer
EVERETT — Statements a Marysville man made to police when arrested in June on suspicion of involvement in a fatal drive-by shooting in Lake Stevens can be used at his murder trial next year, a Snohomish County judge ruled Thursday.
Erick N. Walker, 27, was advised of his rights to remain silent and to consult with a defense attorney. He made an informed decision to speak with detectives, Superior Court Judge Marybeth Dingledy concluded after a key hearing in the case.
Walker is charged with first-degree murder in the June 1 death of Molly Conley, 15. He also faces four counts of drive-by shooting for bullets fired into homes in Marysville and Lake Stevens before daybreak June 2.
State forensic scientists reportedly have matched five bullets recovered in the shootings with two handguns seized from Walker’s home. While the bullet that killed Molly apparently has not been recovered, prosecutors believe they have a strong, circumstantial case that the gunfire is connected.
Thursday’s ruling secured a potentially important part of their case.
Walker was arrested June 28 as he was leaving his house. He initially said nothing to police, but before the afternoon was out, he provided detectives with a nearly three-hour taped interview.
Walker denied responsibility for killing Molly or randomly shooting at houses and cars. He also gave conflicting accounts about how he spent the hours when the gunfire was occurring. When confronted with some of the discrepancies, he reportedly admitted that he was driving around Lake Stevens the night Molly was shot.
The freshman from Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School was celebrating her 15th birthday. She was walking with girlfriends who had just been at a nearby park.
Walker claimed he was driving around Lake Stevens and got lost looking for a restaurant.
Deputy prosecutor Ed Stemler on Thursday urged the judge to clear the way for the man’s statements to be used at his trial.
Walker did ask if an attorney was at the sheriff’s office when he was taken there for questioning, but he never explicitly requested to talk with counsel, nor did he exercise his right to stop speaking with detectives, the prosecutor said.
Detectives also were insistent that Walker make clear he understood his rights even before they would explain why he had been arrested, Everett defense attorney Mark Mestel said. Further, Walker was told he may have to wait awhile for a defense attorney to join them in the interview room, Mestel noted.
Detectives at Thursday’s hearing were open about not wanting Walker to speak with an attorney, knowing that a lawyer almost certainly would advise him to not answer questions, Mestel said.
“This whole artifice was designed to get a waiver,” he said.
Dingledy said she understood Mestel’s argument, but added she was unaware of any case law that would suggest police had done something improper.
In other developments, Stemler filed paperwork saying he now doesn’t plan to call Lake Stevens police officer James Wellington as a witness.
While Wellington was present at some of the crime scenes, he played no significant role in the investigation, Stemler said.
The officer’s work-related problems, including discipline for not telling the truth, became a point of friction in the case, particularly related to the duty of prosecutors to disclose potential misconduct involving police witnesses. Mestel on Thursday put on the record that he will seek court examination of police personnel files and other remedies if evidence surfaces that prosecutors fail to compel police to share information about officers that the defense has a right to know.
Dingledy also set conditions for a ballistic expert to examine bullets, guns and other forensic evidence.
Stemler said he’s worried about potential damage to key evidence. Mestel said prosecutors were trying to impose too many restrictions. While the judge gave his expert greater access, Mestel said he’s worried whether the work and analysis will be ready in time for Walker’s trial, now scheduled for mid March.
Scott North: 425-339-3431, firstname.lastname@example.org