Andrew Lester: What we know about white homeowner charged with shooting Ralph Yarl

An 84-year-old man is charged with the shooting of Black teen Ralph Yarl – a shooting prosecutors believe had a ‘racial’ element. Graeme Massie and Rachel Sharp report

Friday 21 April 2023 11:59 BST
Andrew Lester appears in court (left) as Ralph Yarl recovers at home (right)
Andrew Lester appears in court (left) as Ralph Yarl recovers at home (right) (Reuters/MerrittForTexas)

Black teenager Ralph Yarl was shot by a white homeowner after he accidentally rang the doorbell at the wrong house while going to collect his brothers.

The 16-year-old accidental visit to Andrew Lester’s home in the Northland suburb of Kansas City quickly turned violent and the high school student was left hospitalised with serious injuries.

Instead of going to a home in the 1100 block of Northeast 115th Terrace in Kansas City, Missouri, to pick up his brothers, he mistakenly went to Northeast 115th Street, police said.

Now prosecutors have brought charges against the homeowner.

Here is everything we know about the suspect.

The homeowner

The identity of the shooter was revealed on Monday afternoon as Andrew D Lester, aged 84.

He is now facing the rest of his life behind bars over the shooting.

His family broke its silence for the first time to condemn the shooting.

Mr Lester’s grandson Daniel Ludwig told The Daily Beast that the violent encounter “never should have happened.”

“It’s just crazy. I wish it didn’t happen,” he said.

Mr Ludwig, who said he is “very close” to Mr Lester, revealed he understands how easy it was for Ralph to get lost on the streets.

“I’d go to visit my grandpa, and I would get lost on those streets,” he said.

“It’s easy to do. They all look the same and everything.”

Other people who knew the 84-year-old have described a penchant for anger and conspiracy theories.

Another grandson Klint Ludwig said that he was estranged from his grandfather because of the 84-year-old’s right-wing views.

Andrew Lester appears in court to answer charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action on Wednesday
Andrew Lester appears in court to answer charges of first-degree assault and armed criminal action on Wednesday (AP)

He claimed that, during the Covid-19 pandemic, Mr Lester had shared a “crazy” conspiracy theory about Dr Anthony Fauci.

He said his grandfather also used to make disparaging comments about Black people, gay people, and immigrants – and kept a large number of guns in his home.

Another relative, who did not want to be named, said Mr Lester spent “considerable time at home in a living room chair, watching conservative news programs at high volume”.

Mr Lester’s ex-wife Mary Clayton has also spokem out to reveal why she isn’t surprised by the shooting.

Ms Clayton, who was married to Mr Lester when she was young and had three children with him, told The New York Times she “was always scared of” her former husband.

During their 14-year marriage, she said he had anger issues and would smash up items around their home.

She called the police at least once over his rages but she said that nothing was done about it and she was told Mr Lester could do what he wanted in his home.

“I was always scared of him,” she said, adding of the shooting: “It doesn’t surprise me, what happened.”

The charges

Following the shooting, Mr Lester was initially taken into custody on Thursday and placed on a 24-hour hold.

However, under Missouri state law, a person can only be held for 24 hours on suspicion of a felony before officials must either charge or release them. Attorneys for Ralph – and jail officials – said that the suspect was actually released after less than two hours.

Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said at a press conference on Sunday that – due to Ralph’s injuries – police had been unable to get a formal statement from him.

This was also contradicted by Ralph’s attorneys who said that the teenager gave an interview from his hospital bed on Friday.

In an appearance on CNN, Mr Crump described the shooting as an attempted murder.

The home where the suspect shot Ralph Yarl
The home where the suspect shot Ralph Yarl (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

On Monday afternoon, Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson announced that Mr Lester had been charged with two felonies: assault in the first degree, which carries a punishment of 10 to 30 years or life imprisonment, and armed criminal action, which carries a punishment of 3 to 15 years.

However, more than 20 hours passed before Mr Lester was taken into custody.

He surrendered to authorities on Tuesday before being released again less than two hours later after posting $200,000 bond.

Under the conditions of his release, he is not allowed to possess weapons of any type or have any contact with Ralph or his family.

Mr Lester appeared in court for the first time on Wednesday for his arraignment.

He pleaded not guilty to the two felonies and was released on bond. His next court appearance is scheduled for 1 June.

The 84-year-old is facing life in prison on the charges but is also said to be under investigation for a possible hate crime.

Mr Merritt told reporters outside Clay County Court on Wednesday that the Justice Department is looking into the case.

“Before I even made it to Kansas City, we reached out to the Department of Justice, myself and my co-counsel Ben Crump, we have some longstanding relationships there,” Mr Merritt said.

“We thought that this was something the DOJ should be looking into. They are (looking into it). It’s under investigation, they’ve received our complaint and now they’re looking into it.”

On Monday, when asked if Mr Lester could be charged with a hate crime by the state, the prosecutor said that it would not be possible under Missouri law.

In Missouri, a hate crime is a lower level of felony and to add the charge would amount to double jeopardy, he said.

Ralph’s attorneys have also questioned why the suspect has not been charged with attempted murder.

While Mr Merritt said the family is happy that two felony charges have been brought, he has questions as to why Mr Lester has not been charged with attempted murder.

Ralph Yarl was shot twice on 13 April
Ralph Yarl was shot twice on 13 April (Ben Crump Law)

He told CBS Mornings on Tuesday that, while Mr Lester’s age may be a factor in the case, the “current and former president of the United States is about that age”. “He made a conscious decision to shoot a 16-year-old boy,” he said.

“Ralph Yarl was shot because he was armed with nothing but other than his Black skin,” he said.

The motive

Initially, officials denied any “racial” element to the shooting and offered no motive for the gunman opening fire on the teen.

Speaking on Sunday, the police chief said that there was no evidence to indicate that the shooting was racially motivated.

But, on Monday, when charges were announced, the prosecutor said he believed “there was a racial component to the case”.

He did not give details as to what led officials to that conclusion and nothing to that end was outlined in the probable cause document.

Mr Merritt, who is representing Ralph and his family, said that they were meeting with the prosecutor on Tuesday where they hoped to learn what “racial element” investigators had found.

He told CBS Mornings that the suspect’s claim that he felt threatened by a Black boy ringing his doorbell “sounds awfully familiar”.

“Being Black has been seen as a threat often in this country. It is unjustifiable for him to use deadly force against this so-called threat. Again, Blackness is not a threat,” he said.

He added that the investigation itself shows bias in the treatment of the Black teen and the white shooter.

“We saw law enforcement respond by essentially criminalising the boy,” he said of Mr Lester’s lack of arrest.

“[Mr Lester] went home and slept in his bed that night,” he said.

Andrew Lester in mugshot
Andrew Lester in mugshot (Clay County Jail)

Mr Crump told CNN that he believes things would have been different if the races of the suspect and victim were reversed.

“Nobody can tell us if the roles were reversed, and you had a Black man shoot a white, 16-year-old teenager for merely ringing his doorbell that he would not be arrested,” he said.

“I mean, this citizen went home and slept in his bed at night after shooting that young Black kid in the head.”

What happened

According to court documents, a witness told police that they saw a vehicle pull into Mr Lester’s driveway at around 9.30pm.

Mr Lester told investigators that he had just lain down when the doorbell rang, he picked up a .32 pistol and opened the interior door of his house.

He told police that he saw a Black male pulling on the exterior door and thought he was trying to break into the property.

He claimed he was “scared to death” at the boy’s size and feared he was unable to defend himself given his elderly age, the documents state.

Mr Lester said that he fired twice and that no words were exchanged with the victim.

Ralph Yarl was discharged from hospital after suffering two gunshot wounds
Ralph Yarl was discharged from hospital after suffering two gunshot wounds (AP)

During an informal police interview at Children’s Mercy Hospital, the teenager said that he did not pull the door and was waiting outside.

He told investigators that a man opened the door and immediately shot him, causing him to fall to the ground where he was shot for a second time.

Ralph told police the man said, “Don’t come around here.”

Following the shooting, Ralph managed to stumble away to some other homes in the neighbourhood to get help and was rushed to hosptial.

On Monday, he was released from hospital to recover at home from his injuries.

Celebrities join demands for justice as GoFundMe appeal soars

Before charges were announced – and when the suspect had been freed from police custody without charge – several celebrities joined calls for justice for Ralph.

Halle Berry posted Ralph’s image on Twitter and urged her Twitter followers to contact the local prosecutor to urge him to bring charges against the homeowner.

“His name is #RalphYarl and I’m sick and tired of this feeling…my heart completely broke when I learned this precious 16-year-old, who accidentally rang the door of the wrong address in an attempt to pick up his siblings, was shot in the head by a man who didn’t want him on his property. This innocent child is now fighting for his life,” she wrote.

Fellow Black actor Viola Davis also took to Instagram to demand action.

“ALL HANDS ON DECK!!” she wrote, directing people to the posts of civil rights attorneys Ben Crump and Lee Merritt.

Meanwhile a GoFundMe appeal to try and help raise funds for his treatment saw donations flooding in.

On Thursday morning – around two days after its launch – a staggering $3.35m had been raised.

On the campaign page, a woman who identified herself as Ralph’s aunt described the teenager as a “fantastic kid” who had dreams of doing to Texas A&M University to major in chemical Engineering.

“At school, he is a member of the Technology Student Association and Science Olympia Team. Jazz and competition band. He is a section leader in the marching band; a scholar and one of the top base clarinet players in Missouri. He recently earned Missouri All-State Band recognition with an honorable mention. He plays multiple instruments in the metropolitan youth orchestra. He is a 2022 Missouri scholar academy alumni. Ralph can often be found with a musical instrument. He loves them all,” the page reads.

Protesters in support of Ralph Yarl on Tuesday 18 April
Protesters in support of Ralph Yarl on Tuesday 18 April (Copyright 2023 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

“Last summer, Ralph attended Missouri Scholar’s Academy, where he got a full college life experience. His goal is to attend Texas A&M to major in chemical Engineering.

“When asked how he plans to get into this university, he said, “Well, if they have a scholarship for music or academics, I know I can get it.” Ralph’s teacher and friends describe him as “ a kind soul,” “quiet,” “friendly,” “well-mannered,” “always willing to help,” “super smart,” and a “musical genius.” Ralph was looking forward to graduating high school and finally getting the opportunity to visit West Africa before starting college.

“Life looks a lot different right now. Even though he is doing well physically, he has a long road ahead mentally and emotionally. The trauma that he has to endure and survive is unimaginable. He is our miracle. We have heard these types of stories many times, and unfortunately, most black boys are not alive to get another chance.”

Protesters have also taken to the streets of Kansas City in support of Ralph and to demand justice for his alleged attacker.

On Tuesday, over a thousand students at Ralph’s school Staley High School staged a walkout – or “unity walk” – in solidarity with their classmate.

They were joined by school staff, civil rights leaders and politicians in a huge rally in downtown Kansas City where they chanted “Justice for Ralph” and “We love you Ralph”.

“I was out here to support my friend Ralph through this time he is going through today,” one of the boy’s friends told KSHB.

The student said he wasn’t surprised by the number of people who had come out to support Ralph because everyone is “willing to support a friend at our school”.

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