KANSAS CITY, Mo. –
A Missouri judge is expected to rule Thursday on whether an 84-year-old white homeowner will stand trial for shooting a Black teenager who went to the wrong home to pick up his brothers.
A preliminary hearing began Thursday morning for Andrew Lester, a retired aircraft mechanic from Kansas City who is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl. Lester previously pleaded not guilty.
A handful of people wearing shirts that said “Justice for Ralph” were seen entering the courthouse. Others wore shirts that read: “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime.”
Yarl continues to heal from the traumatic brain injury he suffered but was able to complete an engineering internship this summer and just started his senior year in high school. The 17-year-old is planning to major in engineering when he graduates, with several college visits planned for the fall.
Yarl was supposed to pick up his younger brothers but went to the wrong block and mistakenly ended up at Lester’s house. Lester told authorities that he shot Yarl through the door without warning because he was “scared to death” he was about to be robbed.
No words were exchanged before the shooting, but as Yarl got up to run, he heard Lester yell, “Don’t come around here,” the probable cause statement said.
The case shocked the country and renewed national debates about gun policies and race in America. Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson has said there was a “racial component” to the case but has not elaborated.
Lester’s attorney, Steven Brett Salmon, suggested in earlier court filings that he planned to argue that Lester acted in self-defence, citing Missouri’s “stand your ground” law. Missouri is one of about 30 states with laws that say people can respond with physical force when they are threatened.
Salmon has said that Lester’s home was egged and spray-painted after the shooting. He said Lester has sought law enforcement assistance when travelling, and his wife had to be moved from her nursing home.
Support for Yarl and his family poured in over the past few months. A GoFundMe set up on the family’s behalf raised nearly US$3.5 million.
AP journalists Nick Ingram in Kansas City, Missouri, and Jim Salter in O’Fallon, Missouri, contributed to this report.