Andrew Lester will stand trial for shooting Ralph Yarl, a Black teen, in Kansas City
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A Clay County judge on Thursday ruled that there’s enough evidence for Andrew “Dan” Lester to stand trial for shooting Ralph Yarl after the Black teen mistakenly knocked on his door.
Lester, an 84-year-old white man who lives in Kansas City’s Northland, was charged with two felonies: assault in the first degree and armed criminal action.
Yarl, who is now 17 and a senior in high school, testified Thursday for about 40 minutes, speaking so softly it was difficult to hear him. Yarl said he thought he was at the correct address the evening of April 13, 2023, and thought he’d be welcomed into the house.
Yarl's mother had sent him to pick up his twin brothers at about 10 p.m. in the evening, but Yarl accidentally went to Lester's home on N.E. 115th Street rather than the correct address, 115th Terrace.
Instead, Yarl testified that Lester opened his front door, said “Don’t come here ever again,” and shot him twice through his glass storm door.
'A split second to make a decision'
Lester’s attorney, Steven Salmon, tried to dispute Yarl’s testimony. Yarl admitted that he made a mistake the first time he told police he hadn’t opened the glass storm door in front of Lester's wooden door — when in fact he had.
Salmon said it was reasonable for Lester to be afraid: He was alone, he’s infirm, he was startled from his bed at night, and he thought someone was trying to get into his house. When asked by Lester’s attorney if it was understandable that Lester is an old man who was scared by the stranger at his door, Yarl agreed.
Missouri law — which includes a "castle doctrine"— allows Lester to defend himself, Salmon said.
“He had a split second to make a decision,” Salmon said. “Mr. Lester didn’t need to wait to be attacked by a stranger in the dark.”
But Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson countered that Lester shot Yarl through a closed and locked storm door. While state law allows people to have guns and defend themselves, Thompson said, “you do not have the right to shoot an unarmed kid two times.”
“Ralph was unarmed. Ralph was unmasked. He wasn’t yanking violently on the door,” Thompson said.
Prosecutors played a recording of the 911 call that Lester made that night, where Lester can be heard telling police that someone rang his “damn doorbell.” He then told police, “He wanted in my house but I shot him.”
Lester described the person at his door as a 6-foot-tall Black man. Yarl is about 5 feet 10 inches, said his mother, Cleo Nagbe.
Kansas City Police detectives testified that Lester was shaken the night of the shooting and was worried he may have killed the unknown person at his front door. He was cooperative with police, allowing them to search his home and willingly going to a police station for questioning.
“He seemed to me like an elderly guy who was scared,” said Kansas City officer Larry Dunaway, Jr.
Lester used an antique gun — an 1888 Smith & Wesson revolver — which was found on a chair by the front door after the shooting, testified KCPD detective Dennis Paquette.
Two medical doctors testified that Yarl was shot in the upper right arm and on the left side of his forehead, above his eye.
He had to undergo neurosurgery the morning after the shooting to remove the bullet fragment that had lodged in his skull, said Dr. Sheila Alton, an emergency doctor at Liberty Hospital.
“Ralph still has a traumatic brain injury,” Nagbe said.
"This kid is like, ‘Can I please have a normal senior year? Can I please graduate like maybe a normal person? Can I have just some normalcy in this life?’”
The shooting of Yarl — after which prosecutors waited four days to charge Lester — sparked a national outcry and protests in Kansas City.
Although many decried the shooting as a racially-motivated attack, Thompson said the two felonies Lester faces has nothing to do with race.
”There’s no legal racial component to the offense of assault in the first degree or armed criminal action,” Thompson said. “My focus remains on what is required by the law.”
Thompson previously said he did not file hate crime charges because Missouri's hate crime laws are less severe than the two felonies Lester already faces.
In May, after a motion from the defense team, a judge sealed the case from the public due to its high-profile nature, saying that it's cast Lester in a "negative light." Lester's lawyer, Steven Salmon, said his client has been driven from his home and faces multiple health problems.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson opposed the seal, as did Yarl's family.
Lester faces an arraignment on September 20. He previously pleaded not guilty and remains free on a $200,000 bond.