(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — The Clay County Prosecutor’s Office announced that it filed two criminal charges against a suspect in the April 13 shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl in Kansas City, Missouri.
Andrew Lester, an 85-year-old white man, 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 Monday evening.
The 16-year-old Black teenager was shot Thursday night by a homeowner in Kansas City after he accidentally went to the wrong address to pick up his siblings, police said on Sunday.
“He knowingly caused physical injury to [Yarl] by shooting him,” Thompson said, adding that the first count is a class A felony with a sentence of up to life in prison, while the second count is an unclassified felony and carries a range of punishment of 3-15 years in prison.
A warrant was issued for Lester’s arrest and a bond was set at $200,000, Thompson added. It’s unclear if Lester has retained an attorney.
In his statement to police, Lester said he “had just laid down in bed when he heard the doorbell ring,” according to the probable cause statement.
Lester told police he picked up his gun, a .32 Smith & Wesson 1888 revolver, and went to the front door, which consists of an interior main door and exterior glass storm door, both of which were locked, the statement reads.
“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.
Lester told police he had never seen the man before and that “no words were exchanged during the incident and the male had not said anything prior to pulling on the door handle,” according to the probable cause statement.
The suspect told police “it was the last thing he wanted to do, but he was ‘scared to death’ due to the male’s size,” his own age, and his “inability to defend himself,” the statement reads.
Police conducted an informal cursory interview with Yarl at Children’s Mercy Hospital on Friday, according to the probable cause statement. Yarl told police he parked in the driveway, went to the front door, “pressed the doorbell and waited outside the front door,” the statement reads. Yarl told police the man inside “took a long time but finally opened the door holding a firearm,” and then “he was immediately shot in the head and fell to the ground,” according to the statement.
Yarl told police he got up and “ran away to keep from being shot,” and that the man allegedly said “don’t come around here,” according to the probable cause statement.
Yarl told police he went to multiple residences to ask for help and tell people to call the police, the statement reads.
Attorney Lee Merritt, who represents the Yarl family along with attorney Ben Crump, told ABC News Live Prime anchor Linsey Davis in an interview Monday that the family is “relieved” that charges have been filed.
“Because of the national outpouring, because of the community of Missouri that stood up, because of all the national organizers and people who have lent their voice — it seems that the prosecutors and law enforcement agencies on the ground are taking the case more seriously,” Merritt said.
The case garnered national attention over the weekend, and the White House confirmed to ABC News that President Joe Biden spoke with the Yarl family on Monday.
“This evening, the president spoke by phone to Ralph Yarl and shared his hope for a swift recovery,” the White House said Monday night.
“Ralph just got off the phone with the president of the United States today, who assured him that, you know, that he was and the rest of the nation was invested in justice for him,” Merritt told ABC News.
Ralph’s aunt Faith Spoonmore told ABC News Live Prime in an interview Monday before charges were announced that Ralph was shot in the head through a glass door and then in the arm and suffered a traumatic brain injury and an injury in his arm.
“He is healing. We are taking it one day at a time,” she said, adding that the shooting has also taken an emotional toll on the family.
The charges came after protests erupted in Kansas City over the weekend after Lester, who was unidentified at the time, was taken into custody and then released pending an investigation by the Kansas City Police Department.
“We understand how frustrating this has been,” Thompson said. “But I can assure you that the criminal justice system is working and will continue to work. As with any serious case, we approached this one in an objective and impartial manner.”
Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said during a press conference Sunday evening that after the shooting, the suspect was taken into police custody and placed on a 24-hour investigative hold but had since been released while police investigate and present evidence to the prosecutor’s office.
“After consulting with the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office, the homeowner was released pending further investigation due to the need to obtain a formal statement from the victim, forensic evidence and compile additional information for a case file to be presented,” Graves said on Sunday.
Police announced on Monday afternoon that they submitted the case to the Clay County Prosecutor’s Office; prosecutors announced the charges two hours later.
Crump and Merritt said in a statement released Monday evening that the family is “extremely relieved that criminal charges are finally moving forward.”
“‘Justice delayed is justice denied.’ We are relieved that charges are finally moving forward but are disappointed in the delay that necessitated national outcry for an obvious crime,” Merritt said in a statement. “We are cautiously optimistic about accountability and justice.”
Merritt said that Ralph was released from the hospital on Saturday and is in the care of his doctors at home. He said that the family now wants to “see this man held accountable to the full extent of the law.”
“Despite of everything, we are grateful that he is alive because considering what he went through, I don’t think the person who did this intended that he will be alive,” Spoonmore told ABC News. “… We are upset, we are angry, but we also understand that it could have been much worse.”
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