KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Clay County Prosecuting Attorney Zachary Thompson’s office argued against sealing records related to Andrew Lester’s prosecution for shooting a teenager who arrived at the wrong house to pick up his siblings last month.
Lester shot Ralph Yarl twice, once in the head through a locked glass storm door and again after he fell to the ground, shortly before 10 p.m. on April 13 when the 16-year-old Staley High School student rang his doorbell in the 1100 block of Northeast 115th Terrace.
Yarl had meant to go to a similar address on Northeast 115th Street, which was a block away.
Lester’s attorney filed a motion to seal the case on May 1, citing local and national media coverage’s potential impact on the defendant’s constitutional right to a fair trial.
Lester was charged with first-degree assault and armed criminal action.
“Legal precedent on this matter has established a strong presumption in favor of the public’s right to access,” Thompson wrote in a May 16 response to the motion for a protective order in Clay County Circuit Court.
Should the judge decide that the case needs to be sealed to ensure a fair trial, Thompson further argued a clear reason must be articulated.
“Occasions may arise when it becomes necessary for the Court to protect a case from publicity that would jeopardize the parties’ ability to conduct a fair and legally sound trial. However, it is also important that the Court recognize the legitimate public interest in transparency within the criminal justice system,” Thompson wrote. “It is an equally important foundational principle in the legal system that ‘justice should not only be done, but should manifestly and undoubtedly be seen to be done.’”
Lester admitted to shooting Yarl and police recovered the weapon in Lester’s home. He said he thought Yarl was there to rob him.
The case sparked national outrage.
“In short, if records are to be closed, the public has a right to know why.” Thompson wrote. “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. We ask the Court to ensure these values and considerations are at the forefront of any decision made on Defendant’s Motion for Protective Order.”
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