KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — Black teen Ralph Yarl was shot twice, in the head and arm, after going to the wrong home in Kansas City, Missouri, to pick up his younger brothers.
Andrew Lester, an 84-year-old white man, told police he fired at honors student Yarl, 16, out of fear last week. But whether Lester will ultimately claim self-defense in court has yet to be seen. The case raises anew questions about race relations in the United States.
Here’s a look at what happened, where the criminal case stands, how the teen is faring and the role gun laws in Missouri could play in the case.
WHAT LED UP TO THE SHOOTING?
Yarl mixed up an address. Instead of going to 115th Terrace to pick up his twin brothers Thursday night, Yarl showed up at Lester’s home on 115th Street, at 10 p.m.
Lester told police he had just gotten in bed when he heard the doorbell. Before answering, he grabbed his revolver. Lester said he then saw Yarl pulling on the storm door handle, something Yarl disputes, according to the probable cause statement.
Lester told police he thought the teen was attempting to break into the home and he was “scared to death,” the statement said. Without saying a word, Lester fired twice.
Yarl said the first shot struck him in the head, knocking him to the ground. As he lay there, the second bullet pierced his arm. Yarl told police he fled as the homeowner yelled, “Don’t come around here,” the statement said.
Yarl said he went to “multiple” homes asking for help. A neighbor ultimately used towels to stem the bleeding until paramedics arrived.
WHERE DOES THE CRIMINAL CASE STAND?
Lester was charged with first-degree assault Monday and turned himself in Tuesday.
Some civil rights leaders have called for a hate crime charge, but Zachary Thompson, Clay County prosecuting attorney, said first-degree assault is a higher-level crime with a longer sentence — up to life in prison.
Lester also was charged with armed criminal action, which has a penalty range of three to 15 years.
Lester was to be arraigned Wednesday afternoon. An attorney was not yet listed for him.
WHERE IS YARL NOW?
The wounded teen is recovering at home, but his mother, Cleo Nagbe, said the trauma is evident.
She told “CBS Mornings” co-host Gayle King that her son 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.
Yarl’s classmates rallied for him Tuesday, holding signs that read, “We Walk For RALPH,” “Stop The Hate” and “Justice 4 RALPH.”
WHAT ARE THE RACIAL ELEMENTS OF THE CASE?
The shooting outraged many in Kansas City and across the country. Civic and political leaders including President Joe Biden demanded justice. Biden also invited Yarl to the White House.
Thompson said Monday that there was a “racial component” to the shooting, without elaborating. But Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Alexander Higginbotham clarified in an email to The Associated Press on Tuesday that “there is not a racial element to the legal charges that were filed.”
Still, some — including lawyers for Yarl’s family — pressed the racial dimension of the case.
Missouri NAACP President Nimrod Chapel Jr. said in a statement that a Black suspect would have been been in jail from the start.
HOW COULD GUN LAWS PLAY A ROLE?
Legal experts believe Lester’s lawyers will claim self-defense under Missouri’s “stand your ground” law, which allows for the use of deadly force if a person fears for his or her life. Missouri is one of 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 the “stand your ground” defense is a “huge hurdle” to overcome.