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Black teen shot after going to wrong house; homeowner charged

A 16-year-old in Kansas City, Missouri, is recovering after being shot. Many in the community believe the shooting was racially motivated.
Posted at 11:30 AM, Apr 17, 2023

Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson announced Missouri prosecutors are bringing 2 felony counts against Andrew Lester in the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl. 

On Tuesday, Kansas City police said Lester was in custody at the Clay County Detention Center.

Lester faces first degree assault charges and armed criminal action charges — the assault charge carries anywhere between 10 years to life in prison. 

"We understand how frustrating this has been, but I can assure you that the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work," says Thompson.

Ralph Yarl — a black teenager — was picking up his younger brothers from a friend's home but went to the wrong house. While there, he was allegedly shot by the 84-year-old white homeowner. 

Yarl's aunt Faith Spoonmore has been advocating for justice on social media. 

"There was nothing that was an error about that shooting. My nephew rang the doorbell. He opened up the door and shot him in the head and said 'don't come back here again,'" Spoonmore said.

Yarl's family is being represented by civil rights attorney Ben Crump, who reacted to the charges live on Scripps News. 

"That is the appropriate charge. To shoot a teenager just for ringing your doorbell can not be the message that we send to society," Crump said.

The Kansas City Mayor and police chief say the incident is under investigation — but they understand the concern and interest in a controversial case like this. 

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves held a press conference, saying, "The information that we have now, it does not say that that is racially motivated. That's still an active investigation. But as a chief of police, I do recognize the racial components of this case." 

Mayor Quinton Lucas also addressed the media and stated, "We're all trying our best to make sure that people understand that we are listening, and further understand that the department is listening, in any situation where any circumstances may come up and impact race or other dynamics in our community." 

After the charges were announced, Mayor Lucas wrote on Twitter: "I am relieved to see this first step towards justice" 

In this case, prosecutors will have to consider Missouri's stand your ground and castle doctrine laws. 

Julia Jenaé is a lawyer and legal correspondent for Court TV who says the castle doctrine means that "your house is your castle." 

"Generally, most states follow the castle doctrine, meaning when you are inside of your home, you have a right to protect yourself against the unwanted people who may be on the property who you feel may be going to cause you harm," Jenaé says.

Lawmakers expanded the castle doctrine law in 2017 to make Missouri a 'stand-your-ground' state but the law still doesn't apply if the shooter "was the initial aggressor." 

"So the details are going to be key. If this person has a defense attorney, they are going to be looking into and highlighting what actions may have been done by who this homeowner allegedly perceived to be an aggressor," says Jenaé.

Yarl's father told the Kansas City Star the teen is recovering at home now and making good progress. 

Police say part of the investigation will be getting a formal victim statement from Yarl when he's in a position to do so.

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Members of the community have come out in support of the Black teenager. Many believe the shooting was racially motivated. 

Karen Allman, longtime resident of the neighborhood, attended a protest on Sunday. She said she was shocked when she heard what happened.

"I realize that justice doesn't come overnight, but the fact that there is a kid in the hospital and everything I read says not even a charge has been done, that concerns me," Allman said.

Ralph's family was also in attendance of the rally, which was held outside of the home where he was shot. They said he is making progress in his recovery. 

"We are telling a story that is different from the stories you normally hear," said Faith Spoonmore, Ralph's aunt. "He is alive and he is healing."

The shooting has generated concern across the country, especially from prominent individuals in the Black community. 

Actress Halle Berry said her heart "completely broke" when she learned what happened.

"This innocent child is now fighting for his life. This could be your child. This should NOT happen," Berry tweeted.

The Associated Press reported that Yarl was released from the hospital on Sunday and was "doing well physically" but his father said there was a lot of emotional trauma. 

Singer Jennifer Hudson said she is praying for Ralph.

Bernice King, daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., said she believes the homeowner should be charged.

"My goodness … let's be for justice, which is a continuum," King said.

The attorney representing Ralph's family describes the 16-year-old as a good kid who loves music and playing the clarinet. 

"He is loved by his family and community and he has a bright bright future," said attorney Lee Merritt.

A GoFundMe campaign set up to support Yarl exceeded $1.6 million by Monday afternoon.