Judge agrees to seal Ralph Yarl shooting case, citing threats to 84-year-old defendant

Tribune Content Agency

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A judge has agreed to grant a protective order for Andrew Lester, the Kansas City Northlander charged in the shooting of 16-year-old Ralph Yarl, because of ongoing threats and harassment toward the 84-year-old.

As a result of the decision filed Tuesday by Clay County Judge Louis Angles, who is overseeing the criminal case, all discovery in the case will be sealed and will not be accessible to the public.

The public, including the media, will still be allowed in the courtroom as the case proceeds. The order only prevents the public from viewing certain filings in the case, including materials and evidence that could be used at trial.

Lester is charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action after he allegedly shot Yarl twice — in the head and the arm — after the teen mistakenly came to his door in April while trying to pick up his younger brothers from an address one street over.

Yarl later told police he was shot immediately after Lester opened the door, and he overheard Lester say: “Don’t come around here.”

During his interview with police, Lester, who is white, accused Yarl of pulling his door handle — an account that is disputed by Yarl and his family — and said he shot him because he was “scared to death” of the tall, Black stranger at his door.

The case grabbed international attention almost immediately as politicians, celebrities and even President Joe Biden called for justice for Yarl.

Lester’s attorney Stephen Salmon previously pointed out that while prosecutors did not charge Lester with a crime alleging racial motivation in the shooting of Yarl, there was still mass speculation around his motivations and he had been cast in a negative and racist light, which could later harm his right to an impartial jury and a fair trial, a Constitutional right.

Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson previously asked Angles to publicly explain his reasoning if he approved the protective order.

“Justice should not only be done but be shown to be done,” Thompson said last week.

Angles in his ruling noted the extensive local, national and international attention the case has garnered, including on NPR, FOX News, the BBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post. The judge also noted an interview on Inside Edition with Lester’s ex-wife, who alleges he abused her more than 50 years ago when they were married, and a CNN interview with Lester’s grandson, who said Lester has “racist tendencies.”

That grandson in an interview with The Star said his grandfather had been influenced by more extreme conservative viewpoints and “a 24-hour news cycle of fear and paranoia.” Two other relatives said they didn’t believe Lester was a racist and thought he likely was scared when he shot Yarl.

The shooting renewed national conversations about racism, and racial bias, both explicit and implicit, and gun rights in the U.S.

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

He also noted a number of the celebrities have called for justice for Yarl, including Gwenyth Paltrow, Halle Berry, Chrissy Teigen, Kim Kardashian and Viola Davis.

Angles also drew attention to a comment made by Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who said: “If Stand Your Ground really lets somebody shoot somebody that rings a doorbell, that puts the life of every postal worker, every campaigner, every Amazon delivery person at risk in this country.”

“These statements implicitly communicate to the public that the alleged actions of the Defendant are indefensible,” Angles wrote.

The protective order was also granted because of ongoing threats and harassment against Lester, the judge wrote. Salmon said Lester has been forced to move three times, that his home of 40 years has been “egged” and spray-painted and that his wife was also forced to move nursing homes out of safety concerns.

The judge also included in his reasoning a number of text messages he said Lester received on his personal cell phone after the shooting, when his number was posted on a public platform.

Lester has been called a “murderer” over text, as well as a “racist white man” who “should burn in hell,” according to court records. Someone also threatened to shoot up Lester’s home, and he received multiple messages from people saying they hope he dies.

“The threats and harassment demonstrate Defendant’s life and physical safety are in jeopardy,” the judge wrote.

Last week, in an interview with The Star, Yarl’s aunt, Faith Spoonmore, said she couldn’t comment on the ongoing court case, but said she instead wanted to bring the focus back to her nephew.

“I just want for people to remember who the real victim is in the situation,” she said.

A few days earlier in court, Salmon had said that Lester was having health problems, and had lost about 40 pounds since he was charged in the shooting.

Spoonmore noted on Thursday that Yarl also lost weight while in the hospital. At one point he weighed only 140 pounds.

“Who are you trying to paint as a victim?” she asked in response to Salmon’s filings. “Who are you trying to get sympathy for, and why?”

Lester is scheduled to appear in court next on Thursday.