EVERETT — A Snohomish County courtroom was filled with the sound of anguished screaming Monday as trial began for the man accused of randomly gunning down a 15-year-old girl as she walked with friends along a darkened Lake Stevens road in 2013.
Tape recordings of the 911 calls Molly Conley’s friends made the night she was fatally shot were played by prosecutors as they began trying to prove that Erick Walker of Marysville is the person responsible.
Molly and five other teenage girls were walking along South Lake Stevens Road on June 1, 2013 when a shot rang out.
Two of the girls immediately called 911, seeking help.
Like Molly, most were visiting from Seattle and had difficulty describing where they were.
“Our friend just got shot! Our friend just got shot!” one of the girls yelled, pleading with the emergency dispatcher to send help.
The 911 recordings captured the teens’ screams, sobs and wailing as the girls tried to answer a dispatcher’s questions, tried to flag down passersby and tried to help their friend.
As the recordings played Monday, the slain girl’s family dabbed away tears and struggled with their grief.
Walker, 28, is charged with first-degree murder in Molly’s death along with multiple counts of assault and drive-by shooting for a spree of gunfire into area homes in the hours after her killing. He’s denied any involvement.
In opening statements, longtime defense attorney Mark Mestel told jurors that his client is an innocent man who became a convenient suspect for police who were under pressure to solve a high-profile murder.
Walker had no idea what police wanted when he started driving to work one morning in late June 2013, was suddenly rammed by a police patrol car, and then handcuffed by a SWAT team.
His client thought the trouble may have had something to do with his being black, Mestel said. Despite concern that he was being profiled, Walker tried to cooperate with detectives and answer questions truthfully.
Listen carefully to the evidence prosecutors say connects him to the gunfire, Mestel urged jurors. The prosecution’s timeline of where Walker was doesn’t hold up, he said, adding there also is a lack of scientifically reliable evidence to link Walker to the violence.
Deputy prosecutor Ed Stemler said that after hearing the evidence, jurors will be convinced Walker was “a force of destruction” that swept through Lake Stevens and Marysville in early June 2013.
The bullet that took Molly’s life was never found, Stemler acknowledged. Likewise, the girls who were with her when she was shot didn’t get a good look at her assailant or the passing car that was the apparent source of the gunfire.
Instead, the case was built by police as they investigated shots fired at five houses in Lake Stevens and Marysville during the hours immediately after Molly’s death, he said.
In each case, the shooter used .30-caliber ammunition designed for the M1 Carbine and used in some handguns. Walker’s name came up on a list of people who had recently purchased firearms using that ammunition.
At the shooting in Marysville, the gunman sideswiped a car as he sped away, busting a headlight and leaving behind black paint chips.
Detectives arrested Walker not long after they checked his car. The dark-colored Pontiac G6 appeared to have a new headlight and damage consistent with the hit-and-run at the Marysville drive-by, jurors were told.
When questioned by detectives, Walker admitted to driving around Lake Stevens during the time Molly was killed.
Walker’s firearms were seized for testing. State forensic scientists matched bullets recovered in the Lake Stevens and Marysville shootings to two .30-caliber Ruger Blackhawk handguns seized from Walker’s home, jurors were told.
Detectives also recovered the broken headlight from Walker’s car. He’d asked his father to help him replace it, and when police came calling it was still neatly packed away in a box, awaiting disposal.
Jurors will be able to see for themselves how well the pieces of broken headlight recovered at the Marysville shooting match the one detectives tied to Walker, Stemler said.
Walker faces decades in prison if convicted as charged. His trial is expected to last up to three weeks.
While much of the testimony is expected to focus on forensics, jurors on Monday learned some details about the girl who was killed.
One friend, 17, was walking along the road a bit behind Molly when the shot rang out. She described Molly as athletic, well liked and funny.
She initially thought the gunshot was a firecracker going off. Another girl in the group began making a commotion about how the noise had hurt her ears. When she saw Molly fall to her knees she first thought it was from laughing at their friend, she testified.
Then she saw the blood on Molly’s face and chest. She began frantically flagging down motorists. It was hours before she knew for sure her friend was dead.
Molly’s mother, Susan Arksey, spoke about how excited her daughter had been that week. Molly turned 15 the day before her trip to Lake Stevens. The freshman at Seattle’s Bishop Blanchet High School played soccer and lacrosse, was in the drama club and had dreams of one day attending the University of Washington to study medicine.
“She was delightful and funny, so sweet and loving, kind,” Arksey said. “Super hard worker. Such a hard worker.”
She last saw Molly as the teen was getting ready to leave for the sleepover with her friends in Lake Stevens. Mother and daughter exchanged hugs. A few hours later, Arksey sent her a text message: “Love you, 15.”
Molly replied with a smiley face.
Later came the call from police, urging Arksey to head to Lake Stevens. Molly had been shot.