The 84-year old Kansas City man who shot Black teenager Ralph Yarl, who went to his door by mistake, pleaded not guilty Wednesday in a case that has renewed national debates about gun policies and race. Andrew Lester spoke quietly during Wednesday’s hearing, his first public appearance since last week’s shooting, the Associated Press reports. Authorities say he shot Yarl, a 16-year-old honor 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. Lester told police he lives alone and was “scared to death” when he saw Yarl on the porch because he thought someone was trying to break in. 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 a car 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% to 15% of people who are shot in the head survive, said Dr. Christopher Kang of the American College of Emergency Physicians. Some civil rights leaders and Yarl’s family attorney, Lee Merritt, have urged the U.S. 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.” 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 — 10% of his $200,000 bond — and agreeing to relinquish any weapons and have no contact with Yarl or his family.