Andrew Lester, the white Kansas City homeowner charged with shooting a Black teen who mistakenly came to his door in April, pleaded not guilty at his arraignment Wednesday.
Lester, 84, waived his right to have the charges read at his arraignment, according to local ABC News affiliate KMBC, which had reporters present in the courtroom. The judge scheduled his trial for more than a year away, on Oct. 7, 2024.
The two felony counts Lester has been charged with ― assault in the first degree and armed criminal action ― stem from him shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in the head and arm when the Black teen rang the doorbell at Lester’s house. Yarl had been sent to pick up his two younger brothers from a friend’s house that April evening but mistakenly went to Lester’s house nearby. Lester, according to his police testimony, believed Yarl was attempting to break in and shot him.
Yarl, now 17, survived the gunshot, which failed to penetrate his brain, but his family said he’s suffered extreme migraines, post-traumatic stress disorder and other debilitating ailments because of his injuries.
If convicted, Lester faces 10 years to life in prison.
His not guilty plea follows a judge ruling last month that he must stand trial. In court that day, Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson pushed back on Lester’s claims of self-defense.
“You do not have the right to shoot an unarmed kid through a door,” Thompson said. In the courtroom, several of Yarl’s supporters wore shirts that read: “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime,” The Associated Press reported.
Lester’s attorney, Steve Salmon, said that because of his client’s “physical infirmity, he is unable to defend himself,” leading him to fire his weapon.
Lester previously pleaded not guilty to charges in April shortly after the shooting, but his case was moved to the Missouri Circuit Court in order to try him on felony charges, requiring him to enter a plea again.
Yarl recounted his experience the night of the shooting in a “Good Morning America” interview in June, saying he went looking for help after he was shot, only to have neighbors refuse. The people at the first house he approached declined to help him and locked the door, and the people at the second one told him to wait for police, he said.
Yarl, who plays several musical instruments and plans to study chemical engineering in college, said he’s trying to move past the incident.
“I’m just a kid and not larger than life because this happened to me,” he said. “I’m just gonna keep doing all the stuff that makes me happy. And just living my life the best I can, and not let this bother me.”