Early Monday evening, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson announced that Andrew Lester, an 84-year-old white homeowner, shot and wounded Ralph Yarl, a 16-year-old Black teen, after he went to the wrong house to pick up his siblings.
The charges against Andrew Lester include assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. His arrest warrant has been issued, but he is not in custody at the moment, Thompson said.
“I can tell you there was a racial component to this case,” Thompson said at a news conference without elaborating.
Adding hate crime charges to Lester's case would constitute double jeopardy in Missouri, the prosecutor said, as hate crimes are considered lower level felonies. In a probable cause document released Monday evening, authorities did not specify why they believe race played a role.
According to Thompson, neither Lester nor Ralph spoke to each other before the Thursday night shooting. Preliminary evidence indicates Lester shot through a glass door with a .32 caliber revolver at the teen despite there being no evidence that he entered the home. Additionally, Thompson said there is no video of the encounter.
Ben Crump, the family's attorney, said, “While this is certainly a step in the right direction, we will continue to fight for Ralph while he works towards a full recovery.”
In a previous interview with CNN, two members of the Kansas City Police Department's detention unit confirmed that the suspect was arrested on April 13 right before midnight, but that he was released just two hours later, at 1:24 a.m. on April 14.
Lester, in his probable cause statement, claimed he was “scared to death” by Yarl’s size and his incapacity to defend himself at 84 years old. While in bed, he heard the doorbell ring and grabbed his handgun before answering.
“He stated he believed someone was attempting to break into the house, and shot twice (through an exterior storm door) within a few seconds of opening the (main) door,” a police detective writes in the court document.
After the shooting, Lester repeatedly expressed concern for Ralph, according to the statement.
“Nobody can tell us if the roles were reversed, and you had a Black man shoot a White, 16-year-old teenager for merely ringing his doorbell that he would not be arrested,” Crump said. “I mean, this citizen went home and slept in his bed at night after shooting that young Black kid in the head.”
Andrew Lester's inexcusable and violent actions could have killed Ralph Yarl. The justice system needs to hold this man fully accountable for nearly killing a young boy who did nothing wrong.