Ralph Yarl Case: White Homeowner Pleads 'Not Guilty' In Shooting Of Black Teen

Andrew Lester, 84, was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action.

The White man accused of shooting and seriously injuring unarmed Black teenager Ralph Yarl when he mistakenly rang his doorbell in Kansas City pleaded not guilty Wednesday (April 19) at his first public court appearance.

Clay County, Mo., Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson charged Andrew Lester, 84, with first-degree assault and armed criminal action on Monday (April 17) night.

Thompson alleges that Lester shot Yarl on April 13 when the 16-year-old high school honor student went to Lester’s house, mistaking the neighborhood's 115th Terrace for 115th Street, to pick up his younger brothers from a friend’s house. When he rang the bell, Lester came to the door and used a .32 caliber Smith and Wesson 1888 revolver to shoot the teenager – first in the head and then in the arm when Yarl fell to the ground.

Lester is widely expected to claim self-defense under Missouri’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which says a person defending their life or property does not have to retreat before taking violent action.

The prosecutor has also said that “there was a racial component to this case” but declined so far to elaborate or to seek hate crime charges. He argues that first-degree assault is a higher-level offense than a hate crime charge and could result in a life sentence.

The Associated Press reports that Lester walked into the courtroom with a cane and spoke quietly during the hearing. Lester claimed he was “scared to death” in a statement to police, when he saw a Black male, and thought someone was trying to break into his house. The two didn’t exchange any words, but Yarl said that he heard Lester shout “don’t come around here.”

Lester’s family members didn’t accompany him to the hearing. His grandson, Klint Ludwig, told The Kansas City Star that Lester has right-wing political views, believes in conspiracy theories and immerses himself in “a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia” on conservative media outlets like FOX News.

“And then the NRA pushing the ‘stand your ground’ stuff and that you have to defend your home,” Ludwig continued. “When I heard what happened, I was appalled and shocked that it transpired, but I didn’t disbelieve that it was true. The second I heard it, I was like, ‘Yeah, I could see him doing that.’”

Alleged shooter Andrew Lester

Accused Shooter Of Kansas City Black Teen Will Face Two Felony Charges, Officials Announce

Meanwhile, Lester remains free after posting bond in a process that has outraged many. Authorities first took Lester into custody on April 13, shortly after the shooting. But he was held only for a few hours before being released.

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves explained to reporters Sunday (April 16) that Missouri law allows the police to detain suspects for a maximum of 24 hours for a felony without formally making an arrest. She said that more work was needed at that point to investigate the case before presenting evidence to the prosecutor.

“From this point forward, the state will be pushing to move this case forward as swiftly as legally permitted,” Thompson said after Wednesday’s hearing, according to the AP.

But Yarl’s family lawyer, Lee Merritt, demands justice for his client without delay.

“We want this process to go as quickly as possible. And we know that if a defendant is out on bond, they may feel free to push the date down a little further as opposed to if he was in custody,” Merritt said, according to the AP.

Yarl is recovering at home after he was hospitalized with a bullet in his head that was not removed for up to 12 hours, his mother, Cleo Nagbe, told CBS Mornings co-host Gayle King on Tuesday.

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