Felony charges filed against 85-year-old in shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in Kansas City
The prosecutor said he didn't file hate crimes charges because the other felonies carried stiffer penalties, but said the case had a racial component
The Clay County prosecutor’s office charged a North Kansas City man with two felony counts in the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl on Monday.
Andrew D. Lester, 85, is charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. The assault charge carries a maximum penalty of life in prison. A warrant has been filed for his arrest, and bond is set at $200,000.
Prosecutor Zachary Thompson said he did not bring hate crime charges in the case because they carry a lower range of punishment in Missouri than the two felony counts. He did say there was “a racial component to the case.”
The case of a teenager shot after going to the wrong house — he went to an address on N.E. 115th Street, rather than 115th Terrace on Thursday — quickly drew national attention. Clay County’s phone system crashed on Monday under a barrage of calls from people around the country demanding the shooter be brought to justice.
“We want to assure the public that our office understands the public interest in this case and is working as expeditiously as possible to address the matter,” prosecutor Zachary Thompson’s office said in a statement Monday morning before the charges were filed. “We understand how frustrating this has been, but we can assure the public that the system is working.”
Yarl was trying to pick up his twin brothers from a friend’s house on Thursday but approached the wrong door about a block from where they were. Someone in the home shot him in the head through the glass door, and then shot him again after he fell, according to the boy’s family.
He was taken to the hospital in critical condition. The Kansas City Star reports Yarl was released from the hospital on Monday.
Hundreds gathered Sunday evening to demand hate crime charges be brought against the shooter.
Yarl’s family retained well-known civil rights attorneys Benjamin Crump, the Tallahassee-based lawyer who represented the families of Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, George Floyd and Tyre Nichols; and Lee Merritt, who represented Atatiana Jefferson and Ahmaud Arbery’s families and is currently running for Texas Attorney General.
The two lawyers called the Thursday shooting “horrendous and unjustified” in a statement released Sunday.
“There can be no excuse for the release of this armed and dangerous suspect after admitting to shooting an unarmed, non-threatening and defenseless teenager that rang his doorbell!” the attorneys wrote.
Yarl, a junior at Staley High School in North Kansas City, is described as a high-achieving student and a talented musician.
He is a section leader in his school’s marching band and is also in its jazz and competition band, his aunt Faith Spoonmore wrote on a GoFundMe page raising money to cover his medical costs. Yarl recently earned Missouri All-State Band recognition and plays multiple instruments in the Metropolitan Youth Orchestra.
His family noted that he is also a member of the Technology Student Association and Science Olympiad Team. Spoonmore wrote that her nephew’s goal is to attend Texas A&M to major in chemical engineering.
“When asked how he plans to get into this university, he said, ‘Well, if they have a scholarship for music or academics, I know I can get it,’” Spoonmore said.
North Kansas City Schools Superintendent Dan Clemens said in a statement that the district is “devastated” to learn about the shooting.
“Ralph is an excellent student and talented musician. He maintains a stellar GPA while taking mostly college-level courses,” Clemens said. “While he loves science and hopes to pursue that career path, his passion is music. Thankfully, we know he is now recovering alongside family.”
The GoFundMe fundraiser started by Yarl’s aunt had raised more than $1.6 million by Monday afternoon.
Several celebrities, including Halle Berry, Kerry Washington and Jennifer Hudson, have condemned Yarl’s shooting on social media and called for charges against the shooter.
The Brady campaign, a national advocacy group pushing for stricter gun laws, said Yarl’s shooting and the shooting deaths of four children at a recent Alabama birthday party were, in part, a result of “lax gun laws, Second Amendment extremism, and systemic racism.”
“The Second Amendment does not protect the right to shoot a child for ringing a doorbell, nor was it designed to turn a birthday party into a war zone,” Brady president Kris Brown said in a statement. “Black children have the right not to be shot.”
More protests and demonstrations are planned for later this week. North Kansas City Schools is holding a unity walk for Yarl Tuesday at 10:30 a.m. at Yarl’s school, Staley High. The People’s Coalition, which held the Sunday demonstration, will host another on Tuesday at 5 p.m. outside KCPD headquarters.