CLAY COUNTY — The attorney representing Andrew Lester, the elderly man charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the shooting of local teen Ralph Yarl, is arguing to seal the case.
The attorney appeared in Clay County Circuit Court Monday, May 22, on behalf of Lester, who did not appear in person “due to age-related health issues and safety issues,” according to court documents.
Lester’s lawyer, Steven Salmon, argued evidence needs to be sealed in the case because release would be prejudicial to his client, saying Lester’s been threated, has been relocated three times and lost 40 pounds since undergoing heart surgery after the shooting and that his client’s house has been defaced.
Salmon contends coverage of the case from local and national media is impacting Lester's chance of receiving a fair trial by "creating a great bias against Mr. Lester."
Salmon added celebrities like Halle Berry and politicians like Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas making public statements, which call for justice for Yarl, could taint a jury.
Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson responded to the motion, stating legal precedent favors the public having access to the case.
“If records are to be closed, the public has a right to know why,” Thompson wrote in his filing. “In cases such as this, the court must strike a balance between the public’s legitimate interest in access and the equally legitimate interest in preserving the legal integrity of the case and ensuring a fair trial. If justice is to be served, it must be done in a manner consistent with both due process and public interest.”
The judge asked Salmon why he thinks the case should be sealed as opposed to redacting components. Salmon said it would be difficult to seal only certain aspects.
Lester, 84, a white man of Kansas City, pleaded not guilty to charges against him in April. He was charged that month in the shooting of 16-year-old Yarl, who is Black. Lester shot Yarl after Yarl went to the wrong house by mistake to pick up his younger brothers. At the time of the charges, Thompson said there was a “racial component” to the case, but he would not elaborate on that component.
Lester’s attorney said the case has "no racial elements." According to court documents, Lester said he was "scared to death" because of Yarl's size.
The shooting occurred before 10 p.m. April 13, after Yarl knocked on the wrong door. He was meant to go to a house on Northeast 115th Terrace, but went to 115th Street, about a block away.
“(Lester) stated no words were exchanged during the incident and the male had not said anything prior to pulling on the door handle,” reads the probable cause statement. “He believed he was protecting himself from a physical confrontation and could not take the chance of the male coming in,” reads the probable cause statement.
From his hospital room after being shot, Yarl told investigators “he parked in the driveway and walked up to the front door. He stated he pressed the doorbell and waited outside the front door,” reads the probable cause statement. Yarl also said the man inside took a long time to answer the door and opened it holding a firearm.
“He stated he was immediately shot in the head and fell to the ground,” the court document reads. “… While on the ground, he was shot a second time in the arm.”
The judge did not rule on the case sealing Monday, saying more time to review evidence was needed. Lester’s next court date is June 1.
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