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White homeowner who shot Black teen Ralph Yarl after he mistakenly went to his home pleads not guilty

Andrew Lester, a white 84-year-old homeowner who is accused of shooting a Black teenager after Ralph Yarl mistakenly came to his Kansas City home, entered a not guilty plea Wednesday, with the judge scheduling his trial for next year.

A retired aircraft mechanic, Lester is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the April 13 shooting of Yarl. The case shocked the country and renewed national debates about gun policies and race in America. The trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 7, 2024.

Some supporters joined Yarl’s mother in the courtroom, with their T-shirts reading “Ringing a doorbell is not a crime” turned inside out. Family friend Philip Barrolle said they wore the shirts that way Wednesday after being told by the court the shirts were a problem. Supporters have worn them in the past, but an order issued Monday barred “outbreaks, signs, or displays of any kind.”

“It is up to us to have our presence felt,” Barrolle said afterward.

The not guilty plea, entered by Lester’s attorney, Steve Salmon, is largely a procedural step, and the hearing lasted just five minutes. Lester also pleaded not guilty soon after he was charged, but this is his first court appearance since a judge found sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial. Lesterhas been out on bond since April 19, just a day after being arrested and charged.

The assault charge that Lester faces carries a penalty of up to life in prison, CBS News has previously reported. The charge of armed criminal action carries a sentence of between three and 15 years in prison. Some have called for Lester to be charged with a hate crime, but Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson said in April that the first-degree assault charge is a higher-level crime with a harsher sentence.

Salmon said at the preliminary hearing that Lester was acting in self-defense, terrified by the stranger who knocked on his door as he settled into bed for the night.

Yarl testified at the hearing that he was sent to pick up his twin siblings but had no phone — he’d lost it at school. The house he intended to go to was just blocks from his own home, but he had the street wrong.

“He went and rang the doorbell. And he was supposed to stay outside, and his brothers were supposed to run outside, get in the car and they come home,” Yarl’s mother, Cleo Nagbe, told CBS News in April. “While he was standing there, his brothers didn’t run outside, but he got a couple of bullets in his body instead of a couple of twins coming up, out, and giving him a hug.”

Yarl testified that he rang the bell and the wait for someone to answer for what seemed “longer than normal.” As the inner door opened, Yarl said he reached out to grab the storm door, assuming his brother’s friend’s parents were there.

Instead, it was Lester, who told him, “Don’t come here ever again,” Yarl recalled. He said he was shot in the head, the impact knocking him to the ground, and was then shot in the arm.

The shot to his head left a bullet embedded in his skull, testified Dr. Jo Ling Goh, a pediatric neurosurgeon who treated Yarl. It did not penetrate his brain, however, and he was able to go back to high school, where he was an honors student and all-state band member before the shooting. He is now a senior and is making plans to major in engineering in college.

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