(AP) — The 84-year old man who shot Ralph Yarl when the Black teenager went to his door by mistake pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a case that has shocked the country and renewed national debates about gun policies and race in America.
Andrew Lester walked into the courtroom with a cane and spoke quietly during Wednesday’s hearing, his first public appearance since last week’s shooting.
Authorities say he shot Yarl, a 16-year-old honour student, first in the head, then in the arm after Yarl came to his door because he had confused the address with the home where he was supposed to pick up his younger brothers.
The case is among three in recent days involving young people who were shot after mistakenly showing up in the wrong places. A 20-year-old woman was killed in upstate New York when the car she was in pulled into the wrong driveway. In Texas, two cheerleaders were shot after one of them mistakenly got into a car thinking it was hers.
Yarl was shot at point-blank range in the head but miraculously survived the bullet. Only about 10 per cent to 15 per cent of people who are shot in the head survive, said Dr Christopher Kang, the president of the American College of Emergency Physicians.
Some civil rights leaders and Yarl’s family attorney, Lee Merritt, have urged the Department of Justice to investigate the shooting and for prosecutors to charge Lester with a hate crime, with Merritt noting that Yarl “was armed only with his Black skin.”
Justice Department officials have not responded to calls seeking comment.
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.
Lester remains free after posting $20,000 or 10 per cent of his $200,000 bond and agreeing to relinquish any weapons and have no contact with Yarl or his family. He also agreed to have his cellphone monitored.
Yarl’s relatives were not at Wednesday’s hearing because they are emotionally exhausted, Merritt said. Lester’s attorney, Steve Salmon, did not come out of the courthouse to speak with reporters.
Merritt said Yarl is “completely humbled” by the outpouring of support.
“He says, ‘I don’t know why everyone’s making a big deal out of me,'” Merritt said. “You know, it’s it’s just me, right? It’s not like the president was shot.”
Yarl was shot at about 10 p.m. last Thursday after his mother asked him to pick up his twin brothers at a home on 115th Terrace, Police Chief Stacey Graves has said.