A Missouri judge ruled Thursday that the 84-year-old White homeowner who shot a Black teenager after he mistakenly went to the man’s house must stand trial.
Ralph Yarl, a high school student, went to pick up his siblings on April 13 but went to the wrong Kansas City, Missouri, house.
His aunt said the teen was supposed to pick up his younger twin brothers from a friend’s house on 115th Terrace but went to 115th Street by mistake. Lester, a retired aircraft mechanic, is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action.
Lester previously pleaded not guilty in a shooting that shocked the country and renewed national debates about gun policies and race in America.
Kansas City Officer Larry Dunaway described Lester as “an elderly guy who was scared” after the shooting. Another officer, James Gale, said Lester was clearly worried.
“He said he hoped he didn’t kill anybody,” Gale testified.
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. He sustained gunshot wounds to his upper right arm and left frontal lobe above his left eye. His mother said the bullet in his head was not removed for up to 12 hours.
Yarl is able to walk a few miles every day, and in May he joined a walk for brain injury awareness in Kansas City, Missouri. He completed 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.
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.
Initially turned away while seeking help at neighboring homes, Yarl stumbled to the street. Neighbor Carol Conrad testified that she was offering words of comfort through her window – a dispatcher had warned that neighbors should stay inside. At one point, he yelled, “I’ve been shot.”
When Yarl crumpled to the ground, three neighbors rushed to help. Jodi Dovel testified that there was a trail of blood, which pooled under his head. But Yarl was able to talk, telling her he went to ring the doorbell and was shot.
“I thought. ‘Oh no, he went to the wrong house,’” Dovel said.
Lester also called 911. On the recording played in court, he could be heard telling a dispatcher, “I shot him. He was at my door trying to get in and I shot him.”
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-defense, 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 traveling, 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 $3.5 million.