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Kansas City man who shot Ralph Yarl wants case sealed from the public

 Andrew D. Lester, the 84-year-old Kansas City man facing charges for shooting Ralph Yarl, pleaded not guilty at the Clay County Courthouse on April 19, 2023.
Andrew D. Lester, the 84-year-old Kansas City man facing charges for shooting Ralph Yarl, pleaded not guilty at the Clay County Courthouse on April 19, 2023.

The attorney for Andrew D. Lester says the 84-year-old has been threatened, harassed and called a racist since the Black teen's shooting made national headlines, and is asking the case be sealed so Lester can have a fair trial.

The 84-year-old Kansas City man who shot a Black teen who accidently rang his doorbell asked a judge Monday to keep his case sealed.

Andrew D. Lester has already received threats, been called a racist and a murderer and had to move three times, said Steven Salmon, his attorney. Lester didn't come to court — his attorney said he had heart bypass surgery, has lost 40 pounds since the shooting and is so sick he couldn't appear.

Lester first appeared in court on April 19 and pleaded not guilty to two felony charges — first-degree assault and armed criminal action.

Lester has been the subject of a “firestorm of inaccurate information,” Salmon said, offering several inch-thick piles of national and international media coverage to Clay County Judge Louis Angles. Celebrities like Gwyneth Paltrow, Kim Kardashian and Viola Davis have all posted about the case on social media, he said. Even President Joe Biden has commented on the case, Salmon said.

Salmon argued continuing media coverage will bias a jury against Lester, making it impossible for him to get a fair trial.

Clay County Prosecutor Zachary Thompson opposed the seal, saying any trial should be played out in public.

“Justice should not only be done, but be shown to be done,” he said.

Salmon said he doesn’t believe Lester, who is white, shot Yarl because of his race. That’s despite the fact Thompson earlier said there “was a racial component to the case” and Yarl’s attorneys have asked for a federal hate crime investigation.

Lester told Kansas City Police after the shooting that when he looked out his front door the night of April 13 to see Yarl standing there, he saw a six-foot Black man and that he was scared, according to the probable cause statement. Salmon told reporters that that doesn’t mean Lester’s comment was racially-motivated.

“If the individual had been of another ethnic type, if he'd been somebody else, I mean if he's identifying somebody and that person was white, would he not say they were white?” Salmon said. “He was asked … who this individual was and he said the individual was Black. I don't think there's anything beyond that that's been put out there.”

Angles didn’t make a decision Monday. He said he will issue one before the next hearing, scheduled for June 1.

I’m a veteran investigative reporter who came up through newspapers and moved to public media. I want to give people a better understanding of the criminal justice system by focusing on its deeper issues, like institutional racism, the poverty-to-prison pipeline and police accountability. Today this beat is much different from how reporters worked it in the past. I’m telling stories about people who are building significant civil rights movements and redefining public safety. Email me at lowep@kcur.org.
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