A White 84-year-old homeowner who is accused of shooting a Black teenager after the high-schooler mistakenly came to his Kansas City home entered a not guilty plea Wednesday, and the judge scheduled his trial for next year.
Andrew Lester, a retired aircraft mechanic, is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl. The trial in the case, which shocked the country and renewed national debates about gun policies and race in America, was scheduled to begin on Oct. 7, 2024.
Some supporters joined Yarl's mother in the courtroom, their T-shirts reading “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime” were turned inside out. Family friend Philip Barrolle said they wore the shirts that way Wednesday after being told by the court the shirts were a problem. Supporters have worn them in the past, but an order issued Monday barred “outbreaks, signs, or displays of any kind.”
“It is up to us to have our presence felt,” Barrolle complained afterward.
The not guilty plea, entered by Lester's attorney, Steve Salmon, is largely a procedural step, and the hearing lasted just five minutes. Lester also pleaded not guilty soon after he was charged, but this is his first court appearance since a judge found sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial.
Salmon said at the preliminary hearing that Lester was acting in self-defense, terrified by the stranger who knocked on his door as he settled into bed for the night.
Yarl testified at the hearing that he was sent to pick up his twin siblings but had no phone — he’d lost it at school. The house he intended to go to was just blocks from his own home, but he had the street wrong.
Yarl testified that he rang the bell and the wait for someone to answer for what seemed “longer than normal.” As the inner door opened, Yarl said he reached out to grab the storm door, assuming his brother's friend's parents were there.
Instead, it was Lester, who told him, “Don’t come here ever again,” Yarl recalled. He said he was shot in the head, the impact knocking him to the ground, and was then shot in the arm.
The shot to his head left a bullet embedded in his skull, testified Dr. Jo Ling Goh, a pediatric neurosurgeon who treated Yarl. It did not penetrate his brain, however, and he was able to go back to high school. He is now a senior and is making plans to major in engineering in college.
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