The White homeowner accused of wounding a Black teen who went to the wrong Kansas City address in April will stand trial for the shooting, a Missouri judge ruled Thursday.
The ruling came after a preliminary hearing in which a dozen witnesses testified and multiple exhibits were admitted into evidence, including 911 calls from neighbors as well as the defendant.
Ralph Yarl, the teenager who was allegedly shot twice by 84-year-old Andrew Lester, also testified at the hearing.
“It’s important for the judge when they’re making a determination on probable cause to hear the evidence. Part of that evidence was Ralph’s testimony,” prosecutor Zachary Thompson said after the hearing.
“Any time someone has to talk about a traumatic experience it’s not easy,” the prosecutor added. “So we respect all those who … make that decision to testify.”
Lester’s next court appearance will be on September 20.
On the night of April 13, the defendant allegedly shot Ralph – who was 16 at the time – in the head and arm after he rang the man’s doorbell. Police and Ralph’s family said the teen was trying to pick up his siblings but went to the wrong address.
The homeowner opened fire through a locked glass door without any words exchanged because he thought the teen was trying to break in and was “scared to death” due to the boy’s size, according to statements in a probable cause document.
In a 911 call played in court Thursday, Lester told a dispatcher he shot Ralph and that he believed the teen was trying to break in, according to CNN affiliate KMBC.
Lester pleaded not guilty in April to the charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action before being released on a $200,000 bond.
Steven Salmon, Lester’s attorney, said there was “no evidence that race had anything to do” with the shooting, KMBC reported.
“Also, there was an admission that Yarl grabbed the storm door handle of Lester’s door to gain access to the house. That is a critical aspect of this case and has been Mr. Lester’s contention all along,” said Salmon, according to the station.
Lester told police he opened his interior door and “saw a black male approximately 6 feet tall pulling on the exterior storm door handle,” according to the probable cause document.
Ralph is 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighs 140 pounds, according to his family’s attorney.
It remains unclear whether “stand your ground” laws will play a role in the case. The laws allow people to respond to threats or force without fear of criminal prosecution in any place where a person has the right to be.
In June, a judge granted a motion to seal evidence in the criminal case after Lester’s attorneys told the court their client had received death threats and that publicity could hinder his ability to get a fair hearing.
The shooting fueled protests in Kansas City.
The case also raised questions about the role of race in the shooting and law enforcement’s treatment of Lester, who was released a few hours after being detained. A prosecutor said Lester was released because police needed to do more investigative work.
The incident was one of a number of shootings at the time involving young people being met with gunfire after apparently going to a place in error.
Ralph was asked to pick up his siblings and mistakenly went to 1100 NE 115th Street instead of 1100 NE 115th Terrace, according to police and Ralph’s family.
When he arrived at the house, Ralph said he rang the doorbell and waited a while before a man eventually opened the door and immediately shot him in the head, causing him to fall, the probable cause statement said. While the teenager was still on the ground, the man then fired again, shooting him in the arm, Ralph told police.
Attorneys for the Yarl family and relatives have said Ralph faces a long road to recovery, both emotionally and physically.
A GoFundMe page started to help the family with medical expenses collected more than $3 million.
The teenager, who plays bass clarinet and is a band leader in school, said he wants to pursue a chemical engineering degree at Texas A&M University.