Andrew D. Lester, an 84-year-old homeowner who shot Ralph Yarl, a black teenager twice after he mistakenly rang his doorbell in Kansas City, Missouri, in April is now headed to a trial after he pleaded not guilty to charges of assault in the first degree and armed criminal action, saying that he, too, made a mistake.
At a preliminary hearing on Thursday after listening to testimony including from both Yarl, now 17, and Lester’s lawyer, Steven Salmon, Clay County Judge Louis Angles ruled there is sufficient evidence in the case for it to go to trial.
Salmon, whose client is claiming self-defense in the shooting, called it a tragic case created through a “mutual mistake” The New York Times reported. Lester, he argued, shot Yarl because he felt reasonably threatened after finding him on his porch late at night.
“A terrible event occurred,” Salmon said. “It’s not a criminal event, however.”
If he is found guilty, Lest could go to prison for life as assault in the first degree, a class-A felony. Armed criminal action carries a maximum penalty of 15 years in prison.
Even though Lester is claiming self-defense, Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson, who previously claimed “there was a racial component to the case,” said the argument for self-defense cannot be applied to the case, because “You do not have the right to shoot an unarmed kid through a door two times.”
A probable cause statement cited by Yarl, who had mistakenly rang Lester’s doorbell thinking he was at the correct house to pick up his twin younger brothers just before 10 p.m. on April 13, was shot by Lester in the forehead and right forearm.
Yarl told the court that the night of the shooting he had pulled into a driveway, pressed the bell, and waited, the NY Times said. When he saw what he now knows to be Lester’s wooden interior door finally started to open, he placed his hand on the glass storm door but backed away as soon as he saw a stranger, he now knows to be Lester, with a gun.
“He holds it up and says, ‘Don’t ever come here again,’” Yarl said.
Salmon sought to discredit Yarl’s testimony by pointing out that he told police in his initial account of what happened that he hadn’t opened Lester’s glass storm door even though he later admitted to doing so.
Lester’s attorney argued that it was reasonable for him to be afraid because he is an infirm man who lives alone, KCUR reported.
Salmon said when his client was roused out of bed, he thought someone was trying to enter his home and Yarl agreed that it is a reasonable position for Lester to hold.
“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.”
Salmon said under those circumstances, Lester is allowed to defend himself under Missouri law which includes the castle doctrine.
Both Salmon and prosecutors agree that Yarl, who mistook Northeast 115th Street for the friend’s house at the nearby Northeast 115th Terrace, meant no harm when he mistakenly rang Lester’s doorbell.
Thompson further argued that while state law allows people to have guns and defend themselves, “you do not have the right to shoot an unarmed kid two times,” according to KCUR.
“Ralph was unarmed. Ralph was unmasked. He wasn’t yanking violently on the door,” Thompson said.
On a recording of the 911 call Lester made on the night of April 13, he reported that a 6-foot-tall black man rang his “damn doorbell” and that “he wanted in my house, but I shot him.”
Despite previously stating that there was a racial component to the case, Thompson said race would not be a legal factor in the case.
“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.”
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