White Missouri man who shot Black teen Ralph Yarl in KC faces preliminary hearing this week
Senior year of high school. Playing clarinet in the band. College visits.
Ralph Yarl and his family want the most normal year possible for the 17-year-old’s last year at Staley High School. But four months after being shot during an incident that garnered national attention, drawing responses from celebrities and the White House, Yarl faces some tasks other seniors don't.
This week, that means taking a day off of school to attend a preliminary hearing in Clay County Court for Andrew “Dan” Lester, the white 84-year-old Northland man accused of shooting Yarl. The Black teen mistakenly rang Lester’s doorbell in April when he went to the wrong address.
The hearing starts Thursday at the courthouse in Liberty. Yarl is expected to attend Friday’s hearing with one of his attorneys, Lee Merritt.
The shooting — along with the four-day delay in charging the shooter — prompted national outcry, including street protests in Kansas City. Ben Crump, a longtime civil rights attorney who has represented the families of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, is one of Yarl’s lawyers.
“The whole world is watching Kansas City to see if there’s going to be accountability and justice for this teenage kid who merely rang the doorbell,” Crump said during a June press conference.
Lester has pleaded not guilty to two felony charges, first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He remains free on $200,000 bond.
At Lester’s attorney’s request, Judge Louis Angles sealed the case on May 31, citing heavy media coverage, threats and other harassment. Steven Salmon, Lester’s lawyer, also said his client has been driven from his home and is facing a number of health problems.
Angles is allowing just one pool video camera in the courtroom, but he barred any audio recording. Reporters and other onlookers won’t be allowed to take photos or use their phones.
Salmon said he doesn’t believe the shooting is racially motivated and there’s been “a firestorm of inaccurate information” about the case. During his interview with police, Lester said he was “scared to death” when he “saw a Black male approximately six feet tall pulling on the exterior storm door handle” of his home, according to police documents.
“I mean if he's identifying somebody and that person was white, would he not say they were white?” Salmon said in May before the case was sealed. “He was asked … who this individual was and he said the individual was Black.”
Yarl’s family was angry that the judge sealed the case. They called for more transparency.
“That is what we need to talk about, that is what the judge needs to understand: that Lester is suffering the consequences of his actions while Ralph is suffering the consequences of being Black in America,” said Faith Spoonmore, Ralph Yarl’s aunt.
Although Yarl’s family has accused Prosecutor Zachary Thompson of not zealously pursuing the case, Thompson has said he believes the shooting has a “racial component.” He didn’t file hate crime charges, Thompson said, because Missouri’s hate crime laws are less severe than the two felonies Lester faces.
The shooting happened after Yarl's mother sent him to pick up his twin brothers at about 10 p.m. on April 13. Yarl forgot his phone and got the addresses mixed up. He went to an address on N.E. 115th Street — Lester’s home — rather than 115th Terrace.
After knocking on Lester’s door, Yarl said he saw an older man come to the door holding a gun. Yarl said Lester told him, “Don’t come here ever again,” and shot Yarl twice through a glass door, once in the head and another time in the arm after he fell at the front door.
Police found blood on Lester’s front porch, the sidewalk and in the street, where Yarl ran to get away and get help. A neighbor called 911 after hearing the shots.
Yarl will soon be off on college tours. Spoonmore told the Kansas City Star that Yarl will visit Texas A&M, Purdue University, the University of Michigan and the Georgia Institute of Technology.
Yarl plays clarinet. His mother, Cleo Nagbe, said headaches from the shooting have placed some restrictions on how time he can spend playing. He’s also had to cut back on play in the backyard with his brothers this summer, she said. But he’s doing OK.
“He’s doing remarkably well physically,” she said. “We are facing the daily struggles of getting him where he needs to be so that he can have the most normal senior year possible. That’s our goal.”
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