Andrew Lester, an 84-year-old Caucasian homeowner accused of shooting a Black teenager who mistakenly approached his Kansas City residence, entered a plea of not guilty on Wednesday. The judge set the trial date for next year. Lester, a retired aircraft mechanic, faces charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action for the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl. The trial, which garnered nationwide attention and reignited discussions about gun policies and race in America, is slated to commence on October 7, 2024. Some supporters, including Yarl’s mother, were present in the courtroom, wearing T-shirts that read “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime,” which were turned inside out. Family friend Philip Barrolle explained that they complied with the court’s request to reverse the shirts. Supporters had worn them in the past, but an order issued on Monday prohibited “outbreaks, signs, or displays of any kind.”
The not guilty plea, submitted by Lester’s attorney, Steve Salmon, is a procedural formality, and the hearing concluded in five minutes. Lester had previously pleaded not guilty when initially charged, but this appearance marks his first in court since a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to proceed to trial. At the preliminary hearing, Salmon contended that Lester acted in self-defense, fearful of the stranger knocking on his door as he was preparing for bed. Yarl testified that he was sent to pick up his twin siblings but had no phone due to its loss at school. He intended to visit a house just blocks from his own but had the street wrong. Yarl explained that he rang the doorbell and felt the wait for a response was “longer than normal.” As the inner door opened, he reached out to grasp the storm door, assuming it was his brother’s friend’s parents. Instead, he encountered Lester, who admonished him, saying, “Don’t come here ever again.” Yarl recalled being shot in the head, which knocked him to the ground, followed by a shot to the arm. Dr. Jo Ling Goh, a pediatric neurosurgeon who treated Yarl, testified that the headshot left a bullet lodged in his skull but did not penetrate his brain. Yarl subsequently returned to high school and is currently a senior, with plans to pursue engineering in college.