KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — As Ralph Yarl struggled to come to grips with being shot after going to the wrong house to pick up his younger brothers, the white Kansas City, Missouri, homeowner who shot the Black teenager turned himself in and was released on bond Tuesday.
Andrew Lester, 84, surrendered at the Clay County Detention Center a day after being charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He posted bond Tuesday afternoon. Some civil rights leaders urged a hate crime charge, but Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said first-degree assault is a higher-level crime with a longer sentence — up to life in prison.
Lee Merritt, an attorney for the Yarl family, said the case should qualify as a hate crime.
“Ralph Yarl was shot because he was armed with nothing but other than his Black skin,” he said.
As Yarl recovered from his wounds, supporters, civil rights leaders and politicians rallied in downtown Kansas City to call for justice for the 16-year-old and a stronger effort to improve racial relations in Missouri and the U.S.
Speakers urged the crowd to support Yarl, to fight for justice and to remove politicians who pass discriminatory laws and support gun rights.
Many carried signs saying, “He is only 16,” and “Is this what Kansas City has come to? Stop gun violence.”
Merritt said the family is also angry that police held Lester for only two hours after the shooting, when they legally could have held him for 24.
“If they would have held him for 24 hours, they would have held him long enough to get the statement from the kid with a bullet in his brain,” Merritt said. “They got the statement the very next day.”
During an interview Tuesday with “CBS Mornings,” Yarl’s mother, Cleo Nagbe, said her son is in good spirits but that the trauma remains evident. She said he is “able to communicate mostly when he feels like it, but mostly he just sits there and stares, and the buckets of tears just rolls down his eyes.”
“You can see that he is just replaying the situation over and over again, and that just doesn’t stop my tears either,” she said.
The shooting happened about 10 p.m. Thursday. Police Chief Stacey Graves said that Yarl’s parents asked him to pick up his twin brothers at a home on 115th Terrace.
Yarl, an honors student and all-state band member, mistakenly went to 115th Street — a block away from where he meant to be. When he rang the bell, Lester came to the door and shot Yarl in the forehead — then shot him again, in the right forearm.
Lester faces arraignment Wednesday afternoon. He does not yet have a listed attorney.
Lester told police he lives alone and was “scared to death” when he saw a Black male on the porch and thought someone was trying to break in, according to the probable cause statement.
No words were exchanged before the shooting, but afterward, as Yarl got up to run, he heard Lester yell, “Don’t come around here,” the statement said.
Yarl ran to “multiple” homes asking for help before finding someone who would call the police, the statement said.
James Lynch was the neighbor who found Yarl. He didn’t respond to an interview request, but his wife confirmed an NBC News report that said Lynch heard shouting and saw Yarl banging on the door of another home.
“I heard somebody screaming, ‘Help, help, I’ve been shot!’” Lynch, who is white, told NBC. The father of three ran out and found Yarl covered in blood. Lynch checked his pulse and, when another neighbor came out with towels, helped stem the bleeding until paramedics arrived.
The shooting outraged many in Kansas City and across the country. President Joe Biden was among those demanding justice. He spoke with Yarl on Monday and invited him to the White House.
“No parent should have to worry that their kid will be shot after ringing the wrong doorbell,” Biden tweeted. “We’ve got to keep up the fight against gun violence.”
Thompson said Monday that there was a “racial component” to the shooting. He did not elaborate. Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Alexander Higginbotham said in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday that “there is not a racial element to the legal charges that were filed.”
Merritt said the Yarl family met privately with Thompson and asked why he said the case had a racial aspect, without elaboration. The prosecutor said he was “echoing the words from law enforcement that obviously there’s a racial dynamic at play in this case,” said Merritt, who called the answer “shallow.”
About 150 supporters attended Tuesday’s rally at police headquarters, chanting “Justice for Ralph” and demanding that the U.S. Department of Justice investigate. Lester, the activists said, received preferential treatment because he is white.
Bishop Frank Douglas of the Church of God in Christ, said the U.S. is experiencing its own version of apartheid and that if the shooter had been Black, it would have been ”lynching time.”
“We are putting a spotlight to what’s been going on for over 100 years,” Douglas said. “We got emancipation but we didn’t get love.”
Karen Allman, 61, said she had lived in Lester’s neighborhood for 32 years, although she didn’t know him or hear the shooting. She said she attended Wednesday’s rally to support Yarl and his family because “if we don’t speak out, it’s going to keep happening.”
“I don’t know what they go through on a day-to-day basis being Black,” said Allman, who is white. “But I do know if we don’t stand with them, they don’t have a chance of having any of this fixed.”
The assault charge against Lester carries a penalty of up to life in prison. Lester also was charged with armed criminal action, which has a penalty range of 3-15 years in prison.
Charging Lester with a hate crime would have potentially meant a shorter sentence if he’s convicted, experts said.
Washington University School of Law professor Peter Joy said the state hate crime law is used only to enhance low-level felony or misdemeanor charges.
“What the prosecutor did was charge (Lester) with the highest degree of felony they could charge him with,” Joy said.
Legal experts believe Lester’s lawyers will claim self-defense under Missouri’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows for using deadly force if a person is in fear for their life. Missouri is among roughly 30 states with such statutes.
Robert Spitzer, a professor emeritus of political science at the State University of New York, Cortland, whose research focuses on gun policy and politics, said the Missouri law provides “wide latitude for people to use lethal force.”
St. Louis defense attorney Nina McDonnell agreed. She said prosecutors have a strong case but that the Stand Your Ground law defense is a “huge hurdle” to overcome.
“The defendant was in his house and has expressed that he was in fear,” McDonnell said.
Salter reported from O’Fallon, Missouri. Heather Hollingsworth in Mission, Kansas, contributed to this report.