By Holly Yan and Virginia Langmaid, CNN
Liberty, Missouri (CNN) — The 85-year-old White homeowner accused of shooting a Black teenager who rang the wrong doorbell pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action.
Andrew Lester did not speak during the brief arraignment in a courtroom in Clay County, Missouri. His trial date was set for October 7, 2024, and Lester will remain out on bond pending trial.
The Kansas City homeowner garnered national attention after the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl.
Ralph, 16, was trying to pick up his younger siblings on April 13 when he went to the wrong address – 1100 NE 115th Street instead of 1100 NE 115th Terrace.
After ringing Lester’s doorbell, Ralph was shot in the head and arm. The teen survived but faces an arduous recovery, his family has said.
Prior to Lester’s arraignment Wednesday, several of Ralph’s supporters wore shirts in court that said, “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime.” The bailiff asked them to turn their shirts inside out before the arraignment started.
Lester was initially detained but released hours after the shooting. Days later, an arrest warrant was issued for Lester, and he turned himself in on April 18.
When asked whether Lester could also face hate crime charges, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson has said that in Missouri a hate crime is a lower level of felony. He said adding such charges could constitute double jeopardy.
But “I can tell you there was a racial component to this case,” Thompson said at an April news conference, without elaborating.
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas said he believes Ralph was racially profiled by the shooter. “To pretend that race is not a part of this whole situation would be to have your head in the sand,” Lucas said. “This boy was shot because he was existing while Black.”
But Lester’s attorney, Steven Salmon, said there was “no evidence that race had anything to do” with the shooting, CNN affiliate KMBC reported.
“Also, there was an admission that Yarl grabbed the storm door handle of Lester’s door to gain access to the house,” Salmon said, according to KMBC.
Lester told police he opened fire immediately after answering the doorbell when he saw Ralph pulling on an exterior door handle, according to the probable cause document obtained by CNN.
He also told police he didn’t exchange words with the teen before he fired at him through a locked glass door, according to the probable cause document.
But Ralph said he never pulled on the door. He rang the doorbell and waited a while before a man eventually opened the door and immediately shot him in the head, according to the document.
While Ralph was still on the ground, he told police, the gunman fired again and shot him in the arm.
Lester said he was “scared to death” due to the boy’s size, according to court documents.
But an attorney for Ralph’s family said that notion is absurd because the teen was 5 feet, 8 inches tall and weighed 140 pounds.
“He’s the least imposing kid that I’ve come across,” attorney Lee Merritt said in April. “He is a 16-year-old musician. He is not known for his physical prowess.”
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