A hearing will be held March 3 to determine whether William Collins, the presiding judge in the 17th Judicial District will continue to preside over the Kyler Yust murder proceedings. A decision will also be made whether the case can be heard in Cass County or be moved to St. Charles County.
A judge, appointed by the Missouri State Supreme Court will hear arguments at 9:30 a.m. in a motion by the defense to make the changes. Although a nine-page motion is titled “a joint motion,” the Cass County Prosecutor’s office said it is not in favor of the changes.
Yust is accused of murdering Kara Kopetsky in 2007 and Jennifer Runions in 2016. Collins has been presiding over the case since it was filed in October 2017. But on Feb. 16, during a regular pre-trial conference led by defense attorney Sharon Turlington, citing a variety of concerns including pre-trial news and social media coverage, allegations of police misconduct and improper communications between the judge and victim’s families, requested the changes.
In the nine-page motion, Turlington addressed the topics leading with concerns about the judge. The motion states Turlington received an anonymous letter from “Confidential” with a return address of only Belton, MO, 64021.
Although the zip code is incorrect, it was noted it was mailed from “within the Kansas City area.”
The letter stated: “Between 2008 and 2010, Bill Collins spoke with Rhonda and Jim Beckford about Kara Kopetsky’s disappearance. The Beckfords spoke with Collins about their suspicions of Kylr Yust. The Beckfords attended and spoke on several occasions where Collins was in attendance about Yust.”
There was no information to identify the letter writer. Rhonda and Kim Beckford are Kopetsky’s mother and stepfather.
The filing notes: “None of the defense team was aware that any such conversations or activities may have taken place between the Beckfords and Judge Collins.
…While it is completely understandable why the Beckfords would want their daughter’s case thoroughly investigated, their long and well documented history of involvement in trying to influence the investigation and outcome of the case caused defense counsel to take the allegations contained in this letter very seriously.”
Collins briefly denied the allegation but immediately turned the motion over to the Missouri Supreme Court Among the other allegations in the filing were interference by police and individuals, including a group called “Kopetsky Sleuths.” Exhibits were included showing both media reports about mental evaluations for Yust along with comments voicing outrage. Some even indicated Collins “should not be reelected if he granted the motion.”
There are also 13 allegations of police misconduct in their investigation. The motion notes: “Defense counsel found in discovery an allegation that the police force in Belton was corrupt. Because the defense was already aware of what appears to be a pervasive and deliberate effort by law enforcement in this case to ignore or fail to disclose evidence contrary to their theory that Mr. Yust is guilty, defense counsel also took this information very seriously.”
It further states a witness: “…says she has suspicions that Theresa Hensley, the elected prosecutor at that the time, and Judge Collins were part of the corruption.”
Turlington concludes, “Transfer of this case to St. Charles would guarantee a judge from St. Charles who would not have any association with Cass County, Judge Collins or any other party in this case. The Cass County Jail would have no contact with Mr. Yust, witnesses or the jurors. Additonally, the need to sequester a jury would be removed.”
The supreme court-appointed judge will make the determination about the change of judge and venue.
Kopetsky was 17 when she was last seen alive at 9:19 a.m. May 4, 2007, on Belton High School surveillance footage. Runions was last seen alive Sept 8, 2016, when she and Yust were seen leaving a party in Grandview. Both bodies were missing until April 2017 when they were discovered by a mushroom hunter in the area of 233 Street and Y Highway in Cass County. Yust was arrested for the murder of both women in October of that year.