The 84-year-old White man who shot and seriously injured unarmed Black teenager Ralph Yarl in April when he mistakenly rang his doorbell in Kansas City, Mo., pleaded not guilty Wednesday (Sept. 20), the Associated Press reports.
Andrew Lester was charged with first-degree assault, which carries a maximum sentence of life in prison, and armed criminal action, which has a sentence of up to 15 years. His trial was scheduled to begin on Oct. 7, 2024.
At a preliminary hearing in August, Clay County Judge Louis Angles ruled that there was sufficient evidence to move forward with a trial.
Lester’s attorney, Steve Salmon, argued at the hearing that the retired aircraft mechanic was defending himself, fearing that the Black high school honor student might harm him. He added that his client is distraught by the shooting.
Yarl, now 17, testified at the August hearing that he was sent on April 13 to pick up his twin siblings from a friend’s house but got lost, mistaking the neighborhood's 115th Terrace for 115th Street. He pulled into Lester’s driveway and rang the bell.
When the inside door opened, Yarl said he reached for the storm door knob. The teen assumed it was the parent of his brother’s friend opening the door.
“Don’t come here ever again,” Yarl recalled Lester saying to him before Lester shot him in the head. Yarl testified that the impact knocked him to the ground. While on the ground, Lester shot him in the arm, Yarl told the court.
Pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Jo Ling Goh testified at the August hearing that the bullet did not penetrate Yarl’s brain. Yarl was able to return to school for his senior year and plans to major in engineering in college.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson has said there was a "racial component" to the incident. Lester was 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.
“You don’t have a right to shoot an unarmed kid through a door,” Thompson has said about Lester’s self-defense argument.
It appears unlikely that Lester will also face a hate crime charge. Thompson has said that a hate crime is a lower level felony in Missouri and could constitute double jeopardy in this case, CNN reports.
Salmon disputes the hate crime claim. He said, “There was certainly no evidence that race had anything to do with this incident. Also, there was an admission that Yarl grabbed the storm door handle of Lester's door to gain access to the house. That is a critical aspect of this case and has been Mr. Lester's contention all along," Salmon said, according to local station KMBC.