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White Kansas City man charged with shooting Black teen who went to the wrong house

A MARTÍNEZ, HOST:

A white 84-year-old Kansas City man is now facing two felonies tied to the shooting of a Black teenager. Yesterday, Andrew D. Lester was charged by Clay County prosecutors. Lester is accused of shooting 16-year-old Ralph Yarl after mistakenly knocking on Lester's door, looking to pick up his little twin brothers. The Clay County prosecutor, Zachary Thompson, said his office looks forward to getting a, quote, "just result."

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ZACHARY THOMPSON: We enforce the laws, and we follow the laws. And it does not matter where you come from or what you look like or how much money you have. Everyone is held to the same standard.

MARTÍNEZ: Peggy Lowe of member station KCUR is following this story. Peggy, first off, can you tell us any update on Ralph Yarl, how he is this morning?

PEGGY LOWE, BYLINE: Good morning, A. Ralph Yarl was released from Children's Mercy Hospital yesterday. He has a head injury to his forehead, and then also he was shot in the arm, but he is recovering. His mom's a nurse, and she is said to be taking time off to care for him. And his dad told The Kansas City Star that he's making good progress. As for Lester, he's out on $200,000 bond.

MARTÍNEZ: OK. So tell us how this shooting happened.

LOWE: Ralph Yarl was sent by his mom to pick up his twin brothers at a private home about 10 o'clock on last Thursday night. Trouble is, he went to the wrong address. He was supposed to go to 115th Terrace, and he went to 115th Street. He knocked on Lester's door, and according to prosecutors, Lester opened his door holding a Smith & Wesson 32-caliber revolver. Ralph Yarl later told police that Lester said, don't come around here. That's a quote. Lester then shot Ralph Yarl through his glass front door. Then after Yarl fell, Lester shot him again in the arm. Police found blood on Lester's front porch, the sidewalk and in the street, where Yarl had to run to get away. A neighbor called 911 after hearing the shots. And Lester later told the police that Yarl had tried to open the door and that when he saw a Black man there, he was, quoting here, "scared to death."

MARTÍNEZ: Have there been a number of discrepancies between what police first said and then what ultimately was confirmed to be correct?

LOWE: That's right. Several things have been pretty confusing. So first, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said she couldn't forward the investigatory case to prosecutors until she interviewed Yarl. That was on Sunday. But Yarl's attorney said that, in fact, detectives had interviewed him at the hospital on Friday. That was the day after the shooting. The probable cause statement backs up that claim by the attorney. Second, police said they arrested Lester on Thursday night, and then they placed him on a 24-hour hold. Well, in fact, he was questioned and released after just two hours. And police have not explained the source of those mistakes.

MARTÍNEZ: Let's talk a little bit more about the charges Andrew Lester is facing. Despite many calls to that effect, Lester is not being charged with hate crimes, although the prosecutor, Zachary Thompson, did address race yesterday in the press conference.

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THOMPSON: As the prosecutor of Clay County, I can tell you there was a racial component to the case.

MARTÍNEZ: So what did the prosecutor say about this decision?

LOWE: Thompson defended the way he charged this case by saying that Lester is being charged with assault in the first degree and armed criminal action. In Missouri, those are Class A felonies that carry potentially stiff penalties. If he's convicted of that assault charge, he could face a penalty of up to life in prison. And that hate crime charge, the prosecutor said, would carry a less severe punishment.

MARTÍNEZ: All right. That's Peggy Lowe of member station KCUR. Peggy, thanks.

LOWE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

A Martínez is one of the hosts of Morning Edition and Up First. He came to NPR in 2021 and is based out of NPR West.
Peggy Lowe joined Harvest Public Media in 2011, returning to the Midwest after 22 years as a journalist in Denver and Southern California. Most recently she was at The Orange County Register, where she was a multimedia producer and writer. In Denver she worked for The Associated Press, The Denver Post and the late, great Rocky Mountain News. She was on the Denver Post team that won the Pulitzer Prize for breaking news coverage of Columbine. Peggy was a Knight-Wallace Fellow at the University of Michigan in 2008-09. She is from O'Neill, the Irish Capital of Nebraska, and now lives in Kansas City. Based at KCUR, Peggy is the analyst for The Harvest Network and often reports for Harvest Public Media.