Prosecutors charged an 84-year-old white Kansas City man with two felonies on Monday (Apr 17) in the shooting of a Black teenager who was wounded after walking up to the wrong house when going to pick up his younger twin brothers.
Andrew Lester was charged with first-degree assault, which could bring a sentence of life in prison, and armed criminal action for shooting Ralph Yarl, 16, on the doorstep of his suburban home around 10pm last Thursday (Friday, 11am, Singapore time), the prosecutor said.
"I can tell you there was a racial component to the case," Clay County prosecutor Zachary Thompson told a news conference, without providing further details.
Lester fired two shots through a glass door from a .32-caliber revolver, the prosecutor said. Yarl, who was struck in the head and an arm, did not cross the threshold, Thompson said, adding it did not appear any words were exchanged in the encounter.
But Yarl told police in an interview at the hospital where he was treated that the man told him, "Don't come around here," local media reported, citing court documents.
The teen was recovering at home on Monday, his family said.
In addition to facing life in prison should he be found guilty of the assault charge, Lester could be sentenced to up to 15 years for criminal action, the prosecutor said. Hate crimes, which were not filed, carry lesser penalties in Missouri, he added.
An arrest warrant had been issued for Lester with bond set at US$200,000, but as of 5pm CDT (6am, Tuesday, Singapore time) he was not in custody, the prosecutor said.
The homeowner was initially taken into custody, placed on a 24-hour investigative hold, then released pending an interview with Yarl and the collection of forensic evidence, Kansas City Police Chief Stacey Graves said.
His release helped fuel two days of protests. Demonstrators gathered again on Monday at the suspect's single-story house on a tree-lined street, shouting "Black lives are under attack" and "Stand up, fight back," online videos showed.
"No child should ever live in fear of being shot for ringing the wrong doorbell," Vice President Kamala Harris tweeted in response to the shooting.
President Joe Biden spoke by phone with Yarl, a senior administration official said on Monday.
The family's lawyer Ben Crump on Monday had demanded the homeowner be arrested and charged with attempted murder of a teenager described by his school district as an "excellent student and talented musician".
Missouri has a "stand-your-ground law" that allows homeowners to use physical force to defend themselves against suspected intruders.
The law says a person cannot use deadly force unless they reasonably believe it is necessary to protect themselves or another person against death or serious physical injury, or a possible felony.