Judge agrees to seal court documents in Ralph Yarl shooting; suspect to be in court

May 31, 2023, 9:54 PM

FILE - This booking photo provided by the Clay County, Mo., Sheriff's Office shows Andrew Lester. L...

FILE - This booking photo provided by the Clay County, Mo., Sheriff's Office shows Andrew Lester. Lester, a Kansas City man accused of shooting a Black teenager who mistakenly came to his door April 2023, is scheduled to be back in court Thursday, June 1, days after a judge ruled that court documents in the case will be sealed and kept from the public. (Clay County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

(Clay County Sheriff's Office via AP, File)

LIBERTY, Mo. (AP) — A Kansas City man accused of shooting a Black teenager who mistakenly came to his door last month is scheduled to be back in court Thursday, days after a judge ruled that court documents in the case will be sealed and kept from the public.

The hearing for 84-year-old Andrew Lester is to set new dates for future hearings in the case and is expected to be brief.

Lester has pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault and armed criminal action in the shooting of Ralph Yarl, who knocked on Lester’s door on April 13 while trying to pick up his young brothers, who were at a home a block away.

Yarl, who has celebrated his 17th birthday since the shooting, suffered gunshot wounds to his head and wrist and continues to recover at home.

Lester remains free after posting $20,000 — 10% of his $200,000 bond.

The shooting drew international attention amid claims that Lester, who is white, received preferential treatment from investigators in the hours after he shot Yarl. President Joe Biden and several celebrities issued statements calling for justice for Yarl.

Lester admitted that he shot Yarl through the door without warning because he was “scared to death” he was about to be robbed by the Black person standing at his door.

On Tuesday, Clay County Judge Louis Angles granted a request from Lester’s attorney to seal the court documents, saying the publicity led to threats against Lester, who his attorney says has been forced to move three times. He also said the publicity has made it more difficult for the case to be heard before a fair and impartial jury.

“The overwhelming majority of the reporting continues to assert that the alleged actions of (Lester) were racially motivated, which if believed, virtually eliminates the defense available to (Lester) related to the reasonableness of his actions,” Angles wrote in the ruling.

The judge noted in his order that Lester’s personal cell phone number was posted on a public platform after the shooting, leading to several text messages calling him a “murderer” who “should burn in hell.” Others threatened to shoot up Lester’s home, which has been vandalized since the shooting.

Angles also expressed concern that if defense documents were made public, potential witnesses for Lester’s defense could be subjected to threats and other intimidation, making them unwilling to come forward or testify in the case. He said redacting the documents would not be sufficient.

Prosecutors had argued that legal precedents largely favored keeping court documents open to the public.

Yarl made his first public appearance since the shooting on Memorial Day, when he walked in a brain injury awareness event at a Kansas City park. He did not speak to the media, but his aunt, Faith Spoonmore, said he has intense headaches and balance issues. She said he is also struggling with his emotions and the trauma of the shooting.

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Judge agrees to seal court documents in Ralph Yarl shooting; suspect to be in court