By Doug Barrett and Brendan O’Brien
LIBERTY, Missouri (RockedBuzz via Reuters) – An 84-year-old white man charged with shooting and wounding a black teenager who mistakenly approached the man’s Kansas City home pleaded not guilty to felony charges Wednesday during his first court appearance in the case.
Andrew Lester faces a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of first-degree assault, as charged, for shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in the doorway of his suburban home last Thursday night. He was also charged with armed criminal action, punishable by up to 15 years’ imprisonment.
He entered not guilty pleas to both counts during a brief arraignment in a Clay County courtroom, online court documents showed.
The defendant, stooped slightly and walking with a cane, approached the bench and stood with his attorney at his side as he spoke briefly with the judge during proceedings that lasted just over three minutes, as shown only by the video footage of the session.
Lester, who turned himself in to police on Tuesday but was later released on $200,000 bond, left the courthouse after Wednesday’s indictment.
His encounter with Yarl came when the teen happened to approach Lester’s house late at night, mistaking it for another nearby house with a similar address where Yarl intended to pick up his younger siblings, according to authorities .
Lester fired two shots through a glass door with a .32-caliber revolver, prosecutors said. Yarl, who was shot in the head and arm, did not walk through the door and no words were believed to have been exchanged prior to the shooting, according to Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson.
However, local media, citing court documents, reported that Yarl told police who interviewed him in hospital that Lester had told him, “Don’t come here.”
Thompson said the case has “a racial component,” without elaborating. Prosecutors have not filed hate crime charges, which carry fewer sentences in Missouri than the two counts Lester faces.
The high school student is recovering at home, according to his family.
Lester was initially arrested shortly after the shooting and placed on a 24-hour investigative “suspension”, then set free on his own admission. His swift release fueled days of protests before he was charged days later and he turned himself in to police on Tuesday.
In another case in which a person was killed after driving to the wrong address, a homeowner in upstate New York on Saturday fatally injured a 20-year-old woman when she turned up the wrong driveway while looking for the house of a friend.
Two Texas cheerleaders were also killed in northeast Austin after getting into the wrong car in a grocery store parking lot early Tuesday. In both the New York and Texas incidents, the shooters were charged with misdemeanors.
(Reporting by Doug Barrett in Liberty, Missouri, and Brendan O’Brien in Chicago; Additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Deepa Babington)