LIBERTY, Mo. — A Northland man who shot 17-year-old Ralph Yarl after he went to the wrong house will now go to trial.
In a preliminary hearing Thursday, a Clay County judge ruled that 84-year-old Andrew Lester should stand trial in the April 13 shooting of Yarl.
The ruling came after 12 witnesses testified Thursday — including Yarl.
Prosecutors argued there’s more than enough evidence that Lester acted unreasonably while the 84-year-old’s defense attorneys challenged the narrative of what happened, saying at times the story has changed.
But in the end, the judge made the decision quickly that the case will proceed to trial.
“I think it’s the right decision that there is enough evidence to proceed, so I’m happy about it,” Ralph’s father Paul Yarl said.
Lester, a retired aircraft mechanic, is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He previously pleaded not guilty.
He’s due back in court on Sept. 20 where a trial date will likely be set. The 84-year-old remains free on bond.
Ralph Yarl testimony
The teen spoke softly Thursday as he testified that he was sent to pick up his twin siblings but had no phone — he’d lost it at school. The house he intended to go to was just blocks from his own home, but he had the street wrong.
Yarl said he rang the bell and the wait for someone to answer seemed “longer than normal.”
As the inner door opened, Yarl said he reached out to grab the storm door.
“I assume these are my brothers’ friends’ parents,” he said Thursday.
Instead, it was Lester who told him, “Don’t come here ever again,” Yarl recalled. He said he was shot in the head, the impact knocking him to the ground and was then shot in the arm.
Lester told authorities that he shot Yarl through the door without warning because he was “scared to death” he was about to be robbed.
More from court
In court Thursday, neighbors recalled hearing hysterical screaming and Yarl begging for help.
Initially turned away while seeking help at neighboring homes, Yarl stumbled to the street. Neighbor Carol Conrad testified that she was offering words of comfort through her window — a dispatcher had warned that neighbors should stay inside. At one point, he yelled, “I’ve been shot.”
Several neighbors who called 911 said they went to the teen’s side after he collapsed in the middle of the street.
Jodi Dovel testified that there was a trail of blood, which pooled under his head. But Yarl was able to talk, telling her he went to ring the doorbell and was shot.
“I thought. ‘Oh no, he went to the wrong house,’” Dovel said.
Stand your ground
Lester also called 911. On the recording played in court he could be heard telling a dispatcher, “I shot him. He was at my door trying to get in and I shot him.”
The shooting shocked the country and renewed national debates about gun policies and race in America.
Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson has said there was a “racial component” to the case but has not elaborated.
At Thursday’s court hearing, a handful of people wearing shirts that said “Justice for Ralph” were seen entering the courthouse. Others wore shirts that read: “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime.”
Lester’s attorney, Steve Salmon, said in closing arguments that Lester was acting in self-defense, terrified by the stranger who knocked on his door as he settled into bed for the night.
“With his age and physical infirmity, he is unable to defend himself,” Salmon said, describing Lester as distraught after the shooting.
Missouri is one of about 30 states with laws that say people can respond with physical force when they are threatened.
“A terrible event occurred, but it is not criminal,” Salmon said.
District Attorney Zachary Thompson said that although Missouri law offers protections for people defending themselves, “You do not have the right to shoot an unarmed kid through a door.”
Kansas City Officer Larry Dunaway described Lester as “an elderly guy who was scared” after the shooting. Another officer, James Gale, said Lester was clearly worried.
“He said he hoped he didn’t kill anybody,” Gale testified.
Salmon has said that Lester’s home was egged and spray-painted after the shooting. He said Lester has sought law enforcement assistance when traveling, and his wife had to be moved from her nursing home.
Support for Yarl and his family poured in over the past few months. A GoFundMe set up on the family’s behalf raised nearly $3.5 million.