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Kansas City homeowner pleads not guilty to assault in shooting of Black teen

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Ralph Yarl, a Black 16-year-old who was shot and wounded by a homeowner after mistakenly going to the wrong house to pick up his siblings, holds a bass clarinet in this picture obtained from social media. Lee Merritt/via REUTERS

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By Doug Barrett and Brendan O’Brien

LIBERTY, Missouri (Reuters) – An 84-year-old white man charged in the shooting and wounding of a Black teenager who mistakenly walked up to the man’s house in Kansas City pleaded not guilty to felony charges on Wednesday during his first court appearance in the case.

Andrew Lester would face a maximum sentence of life in prison if convicted of first-degree assault, as charged, for shooting Ralph Yarl, 16, on the doorstep of his suburban home last Thursday night. He also was charged with armed criminal action, punishable by up to 15 years in prison.

He entered not guilty pleas to both counts during a brief arraignment in a Clay County courtroom, online court records showed.

The defendant, slightly hunched and walking with a cane, stepped up to the bench and stood with his attorney at his side as he spoke briefly with the judge during a proceeding that lasted just over three minutes, video-only footage of the session showed.

Lester, who surrendered to police on Tuesday but was subsequently released on $200,000 bond, left the courthouse after Wednesday’s arraignment.

His encounter with Yarl occurred when the teenager walked up to Lester’s house late at night by accident, mistaking it for another home nearby with a similar address where Yarl intended to pick up his younger siblings, according to authorities.

Lester fired two shots through a glass door with a .32-caliber revolver, prosecutors said. Yarl, who was struck in the head and an arm, did not cross the threshold, and it was not believed that any words were exchanged before the gunfire, according to Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson.

However, local media, citing court documents, reported that Yarl told police who interviewed him at the hospital that Lester told him: “Don’t come around here.”

Thompson has said the case has “a racial component,” without elaborating. Prosecutors have not filed hate-crime charges, which carry lesser penalties in Missouri than the two counts Lester faces.

The high school student has been recovering at home, according to his family.

Lester was initially detained shortly after the shooting and placed on a 24-hour investigative “hold,” then freed on his own recognizance. His swift release fueled days of protest before he was charged days later and he turned himself back in to police on Tuesday.

In another case of a person being shot after going to the wrong address, a homeowner in upstate New York fatally wounded a 20-year-old woman on Saturday when she turned onto the wrong driveway while looking for a friend’s home.

Two Texas cheerleaders were also shot northeast of Austin after they got into the wrong car in a grocery store parking lot early on Tuesday. In both the New York and Texas incidents, the shooters have been charged with felonies.

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