Prosecutor in Ralph Yarl Case says Legal Precedent Favors Keeping Court Records Open
A Missouri prosecutor is asking a judge to carefully consider the public's right to information while determining whether to seal court records in the case of Andrew Lester, a white homeowner who is accused of shooting a Black teenager who mistakenly came to his home.
Lester's attorney, Steven Salmon, filed a motion May 1 asking a judge to seal court records. He argued that local and national publicity surrounding the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl in Kansas City had created a bias against his client and would make it difficult to find an impartial jury.
In a motion filed Tuesday, Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson did not specifically oppose the request but said legal precedent has established a “strong presumption” in favor of keeping court records open.
Lester, 84, has pleaded not guilty to first-degree assault and armed criminal action. He is accused of shooting Yarl twice after he mistakenly came to Lester's home looking for his younger brothers.
Yarl, who is now 17, was shot in the head and an arm and is recovering at home after being hospitalized for three days.
“If records are to be closed, the public has a right to know why,” Thompson said. “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.”
Lester admitted that he shot Yarl without warning through his home's front door then shot him again while the teenager was on the ground. He said was “scared to death” the person at the front door was there to rob him.
It is unclear when the judge might rule on closing the records. Lester, who is out on bond, is scheduled for a hearing on June 1.