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Attorney explains Missouri home-defense laws after teen is shot on doorstep

Posted at 7:19 PM, Apr 17, 2023
and last updated 2023-04-17 21:18:53-04

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — People across the country are wondering if Missouri's self-defense laws will help a homeowner who police say shot a Black teenager Thursday.

Ralph Yarl, 16, was in route to pick up his two younger siblings when he went to the wrong house. Ralph's family said he rang the doorbell and was shot.

On Monday, the Clay County prosecutor charged Andrew Lester, 85, with Class A Felony assault. Ralph's family believes the teenager was shot because he's Black.

Ralph's dad spoke with KSHB 41 during a protest in front of the house Sunday.

"If he goes free, the next Black kid that rings that doorbell could be shot," he said.

During a press conference on Sunday, a reporter asked KCPD Chief of Police Stacey Graves if the homeowner could use Missouri's "stand your ground" law as a defense.

Graves said it's a possibility.

Kevin Johnson, criminal defense attorney who teaches the legal limits of self defense, said it's the Castle Doctrine that applies to defending yourself at home.

"If somebody does enter your home, and they place you in a reasonable amount of fear of lawful force, you can respond with deadly force," Johnson said.

KSHB 41 investigator Jessica McMaster asked Johnson the following: "So, this teenager would've had to go into the house, and give this person who shot him reason to believe his life was in danger?"

"Or, was in the process of going into the house," Johnson said.

If Ralph was shot for ringing the doorbell the Castle Doctrine would not protect the homeowner, Johnson said.

Another key component of the Castle Doctrine: defense.

"Strictly speaking, you can't start a problem and then say, 'Self defense' if things go wrong for you," Johnson said.

Another component of the Castle Doctrine: reasonable fear.

"A reasonable man must consider it to be a reasonable see people who are paranoid. Just because you think, say, that all the Black kids out in the world are out to get you, that doesn't give you an excuse to pull the trigger," Johnson said. "You may sincerely believe it but it's not a reasonable fear."

Whether or not the homeowner could use the Castle Doctrine as a defense comes down to a single moment.

"It depends on what was going on at the time he pulled the trigger," Johnson said.

KSHB asked the prosecutor why Lester wasn't charged with attempted murder. The prosecutor said the charge of felony assault holds a stiffer punishment.