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Judge rules suspect in Ralph Yarl shooting will face trial

ABC News

(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — Andrew Lester, the Missouri man charged in the shooting of Ralph Yarl after the teenager mistakenly went to the wrong house, will face trial, a Clay County judge ruled during a preliminary hearing on Thursday.


Following testimony from 12 witnesses in a Liberty courtroom, Clay County Judge Louis Angles said that there was enough probable cause that a felony has been committed.

Lester, who did not take the stand, appeared in court with his attorney Steve Salmon.

Yarl and his mother, Cleo Nagbe, testified on Thursday afternoon as the teenager faced Lester for the first time since the shooting on April 13.

Yarl, who suffered a traumatic brain injury after the shooting, was soft spoken during his testimony and was asked to speak up several times.

He testified that he is still dealing with the physical and mental impact of the shooting as he recounted the moments before he was shot.

Yarl said that he believed that he was going to the correct address to pick up his siblings.

“I thought I knew where it was at,” he said, but added that although his mother gave him the correct address, he was got confused.

He said that he rang the doorbell and waited “an amount of time I considered longer than normal.”

Yarl said that eventually he heard the main interior wooden door open and as it door opened, he said that he reached for the locked glass storm door and was shot twice — the first time in his head and once again when he was on the ground.

He said that he never said anything to Lester, but after the shooting Lester said, “don’t come here ever again.”

Lester – a homeowner in Kansas City, Missouri – shot Yarl in the head and in the right arm on the evening of April 13, according to police, after the teenager mistakenly arrived at the wrong address – Lester’s home – to pick up his twin siblings.

Lester, 84, was charged with one count of felony assault in the first degree and one count of armed criminal action, also a felony, Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson said during a press conference on April 17.

He pleaded not guilty and was released on April 18 on a $200,000 bond.

Prosecutor Thompson said during closing arguments that it was not reasonable for Lester to shoot an “unarmed kid” two times because you don’t know what he wants.

He also stressed that Yarl was shot through a closed and locked storm door.

During closing arguments, Salmon said that Lester is an elderly man with poor health who lives by himself.

Salmon said that Lester had a “split second to make a decision,” adding that by law he did not need to wait to be attacked by “the stranger in the dark” before he took action. He also said that Lester was “distraught” after the shooting.

During the hearing on Thursday prosecutors called on twelve witnesses, including neighbors of Lester, some of the responding officers and detectives and doctors who treated Yarl’s injuries.

Prosecutors played several 911 calls made by neighbors as well as the one made by Lester in the moments after the shooting.

Lester’s attorney said that he is an elderly man who had a knee replacement and heart surgery in the past. They also shared that his wife lives in a nursing home and that Lester was alone during the time of the shooting.

Officers who responded to the scene testified that there was blood and shattered glass in front of Lester’s home.

According to a probable cause statement obtained by ABC News, Lester, who is white, told police that he “believed someone was attempting to break into the house” and grabbed a gun before going to the door because he was scared.

“Lester stated he opened the interior door, and saw a Black male approximately 6 feet tall pulling on the exterior storm door handle. He stated he believed someone was attempting to break into the house, and shot twice within a few seconds of opening the door,” the statement reads.

Officer Larry Dunaway Jr. testified on Thursday that Lester told him that Yarl was yanking on his door before Lester shot the teen. On cross examination, Dunaway said Lester indicated he was concerned for Yarl.

According to the probable cause statement, Yarl told police that he rang the doorbell and said that he didn’t pull on the door knob.

Detective Dennis Paquette testified on Thursday that Yarl initially told investigators that he had not reached for Lester’s storm door which Lester told detectives was locked. But he said that during a later interview, Yarl said he did reach for the storm door once Lester came to the door.

Yarl told “GMA” in an interview that aired on June 27 that he was shot through a glass door.

“He points [the gun] at me … so I kinda, like, brace and I turn my head,” Yarl said. “Then it happened. And then I’m on the ground … and then I fall on the glass. The shattered glass. And then before I know it I’m running away shouting, ‘Help me, help me.'”

During cross examination on Thursday the defense team grilled Ralph on whether he noticed cameras and a no solicitation sign that was in front of the house.

Yarl said he didn’t assume anything about the cameras that were placed in front of the house and didn’t think there was anything wrong with approaching the door.

Lester’s neighbor Jodi Dovel, who lives across the street, testified on Thursday that Yarl came to her door asking for help in the moments after being shot. During the 911 call, which was played during her testimony, she is heard describing Yarl as a “teenager.”

Dovel told the 911 operator that she was a healthcare professional and felt bad to not provide aid to Yarl, but the operator instructed her stay in her house since she did not know if the teen was the shooter.

Dovel said she went toward Yarl “against the instructions” of the operator when she saw other neighbors approaching him. She said Yarl told her he was shot after ringing the doorbell.

Yarl told “GMA” in the June 27 interview that after he was shot, he was bleeding from his head and his “instincts took over” and he went looking for help, but according to Yarl, he had to approach multiple homes after the first house he approached declined to help him and locked the door.

“So then I go to the next house across the street. No one answers. And the house to the right of that house, I go there and someone opens the door and tells me to wait for the police,” he said.

The 17-year-old teenager opened up about his healing journey as he prepared to begin his senior year of high school in an exclusive interview with “Good Morning America” that aired on Aug. 20.

“Whenever I just think of the details. I was crying about it. Because it just seems so surreal that people would be so harmful and hateful,” he said.

He added that therapy has been helping him cope with the traumatic experience.

Judge Angles agreed on June 1 to partially seal the evidence in the case in response to a protective order filed by Lester’s attorney, Steven Salmon – a decision that was criticized by Yarl’s family.

Ralph Yarl case highlights ‘adultification’ of Black children, researchers say
According to ABC affiliate in Kansas City, KMBC, Salmon argued that Lester has been suffering from health issues and has received death threats because of the attention the case has gotten across the country and the speculation the shooting was racially motivated.

The judge ruled the discovery in the case will be available to prosecutors and the defense, but will not be shared with the public, writing in the ruling obtained by ABC News, that the “wide-ranging publicity” of the case in the national media has cast Lester “in a negative light” and has continued to “erode [his] ability [to] empanel a fair and impartial venire in his future jury trial.”

“Such conjecture of a racial motive in the reporting of this case negatively affects Defendant’s fundamental right to a fair trial on the merits,” the judge added in the ruling.

ABC News reached out to Salmon ahead of the preliminary hearing for further comment.

He previously told ABC News in June that “any statement from Mr. Lester would certainly violate” the court order to partially seal the evidence and added that “Lester is looking forward to the upcoming preliminary hearing.”

Yarl’s aunt Faith Spoonmore told ABC News in May that the family opposes the motion to partially seal the evidence.

“He was only 16 years old when this happened. What type of message does this send to the people who think this behavior is ok? It’s just sad that the justice system is protecting them and not the victim,” she said.

A spokesperson for Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson told ABC News on June 1 that the office is “dedicated to following the law and accepts the ruling of the Court.”

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