Update: A jury on Friday returned its recommendation in the sentencing of Kylr Yust. Read that story here.
Kylr Yust was convicted Thursday in the killings of two young women who went missing roughly 10 years apart in Cass County. Jurors deliberated for more than 14 hours.
Yust, 32, was found guilty of voluntary manslaughter in the death of Kara Kopetsky, 17, and of second-degree murder in the death of Jessica Runions, 21. Kopetsky was reported missing in May 2007, and Runions was last seen alive in September 2016.
Yust was charged in 2017 with two counts of first-degree murder in their deaths, though the jury was provided the option of delivering lesser charges. The trial began on April 5 and concluded Wednesday evening after more than a week of witness testimony.
Ahead of the verdict, the family members of Kopetsky and Runions were seated in the rear rows of the courtroom as they awaited the jury’s conclusion. A few shed tears in the moments after the judge read the verdict to Yust at the front of the courtroom.
Yust, of Kansas City, had been linked to Kopetsky and Runions, but their cases remained long-running mysteries in the metro area until a mushroom hunter found their remains in April 2017 in a wooded area south of Belton.
Jurors were selected two weeks ago in St. Charles County due to publicity surrounding the case and were brought to Cass County.
During opening statements last week, Cass County Prosecutor Ben Butler said Kopetsky tried to end the relationship with Yust, who admitted to friends that he “‘strangled the (expletive) out of her and threw her in the middle of the (expletive) woods.’”
Yust killed again nine years later when Runions tried to end a relationship with him, prosecutors said. Yust dumped their bodies in “his spot,” Butler said.
Over the course of the trial, prosecutors sought to portray Yust as a violent and merciless killer who took the young women’s lives because he could not stand to see either become romantically involved with someone else. Yust’s defense team, meanwhile, cast doubt on the investigation and its conclusions, saying no physical evidence connected Yust to the killings.
Defense attorney Sharon Turlington told the jury that police conducted a “suspect driven investigation.” Officers failed to collect evidence, including Yust’s phone records with location data, and lost other evidence, she said.
“Somehow Kylr is supposed to have pulled off two murders without leaving a trace,” Turlington said.
On the stand Wednesday, Yust denied he killed Kopetsky and Runions, instead accusing his late half-brother. He also denied that he confessed to several witnesses called to testify earlier in the week.
“I don’t know what exactly happened to Kara,” he testified, later adding: “I didn’t do anything to either of them.”
Witnesses for the prosecution included the mothers of Kopetsky and Runions as well as two of Yust’s former girlfriends. Last week, jurors heard a 2011 recording between Yust and his ex-girlfriend Katelynn Farris in which Yust allegedly said he killed Kopetsky.
Yust testified Wednesday that Farris made it seem she was attracted to him because he was suspected of murder. He said he was playing into what he believed was her sexual fantasy when he made the comments. He claimed he was acting.
Between 2010 and 2012, police spoke to at least four people who said Yust confessed to killing Kopetsky, according to charging documents. During closing arguments, Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Julie Tolle said he confessed to six people over the years.
The defense’s witnesses included an expert in police best practice, James Trainum, who questioned how local police investigated the two homicides. Another witness said she saw a car with four people in it approach Kopetsky on the day she disappeared.
Sentencing is expected to start Friday at 8:30 a.m. Both the defense and prosecution agreed to submit a list of witnesses to the court by Thursday evening.
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