Ralph Yarl making stunning recovery, family lawyer says

Margaret Stafford and Jim Salter/The Associated Press | 4/20/2023, 6 p.m.
Ralph Yarl was shot at point-blank range in the head by a white homeowner but miraculously survived the bullet to ...
Ralph Yarl

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Ralph Yarl was shot at point-blank range in the head by a white homeowner but miraculously survived the bullet to his skull, the attorney for the family of the Black teenager said.

As Mr. Yarl, 16, recovers at home, the 84- year-old owner of the Kansas City, Mo. house where the teen mistakenly went to pick up his brothers made his first court appearance Wednesday.

Walking with a cane and speaking too quietly to be heard throughout a Liberty, Mo. courtroom, Andrew Lester pleaded not guilty Wednesday in the shooting of Mr. Yarl.

The shooting has attracted presidential attention and renewed national debate about gun policies as people react with shock to a 16-year-old honor student being shot first in the head, then in the arm while making a routine stop in a residential neighborhood.

Some civil rights leaders and Yarl’s family attorney, Lee Merritt, have urged prosecutors to charge Lester with a hate crime, with Mr. Merritt noting that “was armed only with his Black skin.”

Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson said first-degree assault is a higher-level crime, allowing a sentence of up to life in prison, which is more than a hate-crime charge would carry. Though activists have called for the U.S. Department of Justice to investigate, it was unclear whether it would do so. Messages seeking comment from the department were not returned.

Mr. Lester turned himself in Tuesday and was later released on bond. Conditions of his bond include monitoring of his cellphone, prohibition for possessing weapons “of any type,” and a stipulation that Mr. Lester not have contact with Ralph or his family.

The shooting happened about 10 p.m. Thursday. Police Chief Stacey Graves said that Ralph’s parents asked him to pick up his twin brothers at a home on 115th Terrace.

Ralph, an honors student and all- state band member, mistakenly went to 115th Street — a block away from where he meant to be. When he rang the bell, Mr. Lester came to the door and used a .32 caliber Smith and Wesson 1888 revolver to shoot Ralph in the forehead, and then shot him again in the right forearm.

Mr. Lester told police he lives alone and was “scared to death” when he saw a Black male on the porch and thought someone was trying to break in, according to the probable cause statement.

But Mr. Merritt said Ralph is hardly an imposing figure.