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White man who shot Black teenager who went to wrong house will stand trial, judge orders

Andrew Lester shot Ralph Yarl on April 13 in Kansas City, Missouri, in an incident that sparked another national conversation about use of force against Black people.
Ralph Yarl.
Ralph Yarl.Ben Crump Law via AP

KANSAS CITY, Mo. A judge Thursday ordered a white man to stand trial and face charges in the shooting of a Black teenager who rang his doorbell after having gone to the wrong address.

Andrew Lester, 84, is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the shooting April 13 in Kansas City. His arraignment is set for Sept. 20.

"In Clay County, justice happens inside the courtroom," Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson told reporters after county Judge Louis Angles sent the case to trial.

Lester, who is free on bail, wore a white shirt under a dark sports coat in court Thursday and showed virtually no emotion during testimony.

A prosecutor asked the victim, Ralph Yarl, how he was doing when he testified Thursday.

“Better than, say, four months ago,” said Yarl, who wore a long- sleeve blue shirt and black pants.

Yarl recalled ringing the doorbell without any response for an extended amount of time.

Lester eventually came to the entrance, opened the interior wooden door, showed a gun and said, "Don't come here ever again," Yarl said.

Yarl also testified that at that moment, he took his hand off the exterior glass storm door before he was shot in the head. He fell to the ground and was shot again, this time in the arm, he said.

Prosecutors asked Yarl whether he “yanked violently” or actually opened the glass storm door, and he said no both times.

Under cross-examination, Yarl said he had touched the man’s door — which conflicted with earlier police interviews, in which he said he hadn’t.

“It’s important for the judge, when they’re making a determination on probable cause, to hear the evidence. Part of the evidence was Ralph’s testimony," Thompson said. “Any time someone has to talk about a traumatic experience, it's not easy. So we respect all those who undergo that decision and make that decision to testify."

After court, defense lawyer Steven Salmon refused to second-guess his client's actions.

"Once again, I think there's a judgment call. You're talking about an 84-year-old man who startled from sleep, and he just went to the door," he told reporters. "I can't substitute my judgment for his. He's an 84-year-old man, and maybe his judgment is different than mine."

The shooting sparked another national conversation about the use of force, by police and others, against Black people.

Several of Yarl’s relatives were in court to support him, some wearing T-shirts that read, “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime.”

Yarl was 16 when he went out to pick up his younger brothers from a friend's house.

His mom had asked him to go to an address in Kansas City’s Nashua neighborhood, a little more than 15 miles north of downtown. But he went to a similarly named "street" instead of the right address, which was a “terrace," a short distance away.

Yarl said Thursday he didn’t have his cellphone that night, having lost it at school several days earlier, the implication being he couldn’t have called his mother to confirm the address after he rang the doorbell with no initial response.

Faith Spoonmore, Yarl’s aunt, praised him for answering questions so calmly under oath.

“He did amazing. He did so good,” she told reporters. “He did a lot better than I would have done, because I was sitting back there throwing punches in the air, and he was there so well-composed, answering those questions like he should have. And he spoke his truth, so I’m very proud of Ralph.” 

Lester, who lives alone, told police he had gone to bed before he heard his doorbell and believed Yarl was trying to break in.

The court also heard a 911 call in which Lester told a dispatcher that a Black man had come to his door: “He was at my door trying to get in, and I shot him.”

Before Yarl took the stand, three neighbors testified they heard the shots and Yarl banging on their doors, frantically asking for assistance.

Two of the neighbors testified they told Yarl to sit outside while they called for help. The prosecutor asked the neighbors whether they had thought about shooting Yarl, and they said no.

Selina Guevara reported from Kansas City, Halle Lukasiewicz from Chicago and David K. Li from New York City.