Homeowner accused of shooting Ralph Yarl pleads not guilty
LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — Andrew Lester, the 84-year-old man accused of shooting Ralph Yarl, a teenager, pleaded not guilty in his first court appearance Wednesday.
Lester was in court to answer charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the shooting, which has attracted presidential attention and renewed national debate about gun policies. Lester turned himself in Tuesday and was later released on bond after agreeing to relinquish any weapons and have no contact with Yarl or his family. He also agreed to have his cellphone monitored.
The Kansas City case is among three in recent days involving young people who were shot after mistakenly showing up in the wrong places. A 20-year-old woman was killed in upstate New York when the car she was in pulled into the wrong driveway. In Texas, two cheerleaders were shot after one of them mistakenly got into a car thinking it was hers.
Yarl was shot at point-blank range in the head but miraculously survived the bullet, his family's attorney said Tuesday.
Some civil rights leaders have urged prosecutors to charge Lester with a hate crime, an action attorney Lee Merritt said was warranted in Yarl's shooting “because he was armed only with his Black skin."
Lester could face up to life in prison on the assault charge if convicted.
Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson said first-degree assault is a higher-level crime allowing a longer sentence than a hate-crime charge would. Though activists have called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, it was unclear whether it would do so. Messages seeking comment from the department were not returned.
The shooting happened about 10 p.m. Thursday. Police Chief Stacey Graves said that Yarl’s mother asked him to pick up his twin brothers at a home on 115th Terrace.
Yarl, an honors student and all-state band member, mistakenly went to 115th Street — a block away from where he meant to be. When he rang the bell, Lester came to the door and used a .32 caliber Smith and Wesson 1888 revolver to shoot Yarl in the forehead, then in the right forearm.
Lester told police he lives alone and was “scared to death” when he saw Yarl on the porch because he thought someone was trying to break in, according to the probable cause statement.
No words were exchanged before the shooting, but afterward, as Yarl got up to run, he heard Lester yell, “Don’t come around here,” the statement said.
Merritt said Yarl is hardly an imposing figure.
“The question is, at 5-8 and 140 pounds, what did Andrew Lester look out and see?” Merritt asked at a downtown rally Tuesday. “And the answer is he saw a Black person. And for him, that was enough justification. And that would just be a tragedy except law enforcement agreed with him.”
Yarl ran to multiple homes asking for help before finding someone who would call the police, according to court documents.
The shooting outraged many in Kansas City and across the country. President Joe Biden spoke with Yarl on Monday, and on Tuesday invited him to the White House.
“No parent should have to worry that their kid will be shot after ringing the wrong doorbell,” Biden tweeted. “We’ve got to keep up the fight against gun violence.”
Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who had remained silent on the shooting until Wednesday, accused Biden of politicizing it.
"I don’t want some 16-year-old kid to be getting shot because he went to the wrong house — we just don’t want those kinds of things to happen. It’s a tragedy,” Parson told the Kansas City Star. “When the president of the United States is trying to make a political statement over a very serious tragedy, it is very unfortunate.”
Thompson, the prosecutor, said Monday that there was a “racial component” to the shooting. He did not elaborate. Merritt said the Yarl family met privately with Thompson. The prosecutor said he was “echoing the words from law enforcement that obviously there’s a racial dynamic at play in this case,” said Merritt, who called the answer “shallow.”