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Judge rules Andrew Lester case to be partially sealed in the shooting of teenager Ralph Yarl

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(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — A judge on Thursday set preliminary hearing dates for Aug. 31 and Sept. 1, 2023 in Lester’s case, according to ABC affiliate in Kansas City, KMBC.

The hearing came one day after a Clay County judge agreed to partially seal the case in response to a protective order filed by Lester’s attorney, Steven Salmon.

The judge ruled the discovery in the case will be available to prosecutors and the defense, but will not be shared with the public, writing in the ruling obtained by ABC News, that the “wide-ranging publicity” of the case in the national media has cast Lester “in a negative light” and has continued to “erode [his] ability [to] empanel a fair and impartial venire in his future jury trial.”

A spokesperson for Clay County prosecuting attorney Zachary Thompson told ABC News that the office is “dedicated to following the law and accepts the ruling of the Court.”

“We can assure the public that our office will continue to be as transparent as legally permitted throughout this process. Our focus remains squarely on achieving justice in this case,” the spokesperson said.

Yarl’s family criticized the decision to partially seal the case in a virtual press conference on Thursday, and his father, Paul Yarl, also attended Lester’s hearing.

“It’s been tough,” Paul Yarl said while speaking to reporters outside the courtroom about his son’s recovery after suffering a traumatic brain injury from the shooting.

Yarl’s family said that he has been experiencing migraines after suffering a traumatic brain injury that has restricted his ability to participate in activities he loves like playing music.

“Yes, [Ralph is] recovering, but it’s still a long way to recovery,” he added. “He still gets headaches and some pain and emotional scars. But he’s coming along and he’s not there yet. But we are thankful for the progress.”
Ralph Yarl shooting suspect posts bond, released from custody: Sheriff’s office

Andrew Lester, an 84-year-old white man, was charged with one count of felony assault in the first-degree and one count of armed criminal action, also a felony, in the April 13 shooting of Ralph Yarl, a Black teenager who mistakenly went to the wrong address to pick up his siblings.

Lester pleaded not guilty and was released on April 18 on a $200,000 bond.

In arguing for the protective order, Salmon said in court that Lester’s home has been defaced and he has relocated three times since the incident, according to ABC affiliate in Kansas City, KMBC. He added that Lester is in poor health and has lost 40 pounds.

Yarl’s aunt Faith Spoonmore criticized the judge’s decision to partially seal the case.

“Who are we protecting by granting this ruling, who are we trying to victimize in this case? People are too focused on Andrew Lester’s age when they should be focused on Ralph Yarl and his age,” Spoonmore told ABC News in a phone interview on Wednesday. “He was only 16 years old when this happened. What type of message does this send to the people who think this behavior is ok? It’s just sad that the justice system is protecting them and not the victim.”

Salmon also argued that Lester has been harassed and has received death threats because of the attention the case has gotten across the country and the speculation the shooting was due to a racial motive.

“Such conjecture of a racial motive in the reporting of this case negatively affects Defendant’s fundamental right to a fair trial on the merits,” the judge stated in the ruling.

ABC News has reached out to Salmon for further comment.

Yarl was 16 at the time of the shooting, but celebrated his 17th birthday last month. He has not spoken publicly about the incident, but his family continues to call for justice.

He attended a walk/run event in Kansas City, Missouri, on Monday to help raise money for traumatic brain injuries.

Ahead of the event, Spoonmore told ABC News in an interview last Friday that Yarl, who was shot in the neighborhood where he lived, is not ready to go back home and has been living with her and her family.

“He is not comfortable going back to that area,” she said. “He is not comfortable going back to his house, his home … which is so unfortunate because he had a lot of great memories in that home.”

“He’s not doing the things that he loves to do and it’s like he’s a shell,” she added. And that’s the problem, is that there is something that is missing within him.”

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