Andrew Lester, white Kansas City man who shot Ralph Yarl, pleads not guilty to felony charges
Andrew D. Lester appeared for a three-minute hearing at the Clay County Courthouse for a formal reading of his two felony charges, first degree assault and armed criminal action. Meanwhile, Lee Merritt, a lawyer representing the teen’s family, said the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting as a federal hate crime.
The 84-year-old Kansas City man who shot a Black teen pleaded not guilty to two felony charges at his first court appearance in Clay County on Wednesday.
Andrew D. Lester, stooped over and using a cane, shuffled up to the bench and acknowledged Clay County Judge Louis Angles’ questions with “OK.” He appeared slightly confused during the three-minute hearing, and at one point told the judge, “I won’t be staying there,” referring to his Northland home where the shooting took place.
Lester is accused of shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl twice last Thursday night after the teenager mistakenly rang his doorbell. Since then, two protests in Kansas City attracted hundreds of people and the story has garnered national outrage.
Outside the courtroom after the hearing, Lee Merritt, a civil rights attorney representing Yarl’s family, told reporters that the U.S. Department of Justice is investigating the shooting as a federal hate crime — which social justice advocates and some local politicians have called for. Merritt said he and Yarl’s other attorney, Ben Crump, have “longstanding relationships” with the DOJ.
"We thought that this was something the DOJ should be looking into,” Merritt said. “They are (looking into it). It’s under investigation, they’ve received our complaint and now they’re looking into it.”
Merritt also told reporters before the hearing that the family was happy to be at the first step in the judicial process for the shooting.
“I want him to spend the rest of his life in prison," Merritt said of Lester. "All of his assets are going to become Ralph’s."
Lester will remain out on bond and he’s barred from owning a weapon or having contact with Yarl. That directive from Angles seemed to further confuse Lester — he replied, “Got a nephew in prison in Virginia.”
Angles set Lester’s next court date for June 1 at 1:30 p.m.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson issued a statement following the hearing to say the case remains an active investigation and ask anyone with information to come forward. He said his office is limited in what kind of information it can disclose.
“This is due to our desire to protect the legal integrity of the case and ensure that justice is served for the victim and our community,” Thompson said in the statement. “Despite these restrictions, we will be as transparent as legally permitted and strive to keep the public informed of any developments."
Merritt said he noticed Lester’s confusing-sounding comments, but believes Lester is aware of his actions.
“When the judge asked him to move to one location, he was able to communicate with his attorney,” Merritt said. “There didn't, to me, appear any diminished mental capacity that would explain his actions."
Merritt said the family had hoped that the judge would revoke Lester’s bond.
"I don't have any concern about (Lester being exonerated) under the law. I have a concern because of the culture,” Merritt said. “In American jurisprudence, it is difficult to convict a white man for harming a Black child. It should not be so, and I'm hoping this case turns the tide."