By Dennis Minich
While I did not attend the entire trial, I followed with interest and did sit and listened to some of the testimony at the Kylr Yust double-murder trial. To say the entire story is a sad one is an understatement. The deaths of the two young ladies, Kara Kopetsky and Jessica Runions, is almost too terrible to even conceive. Additionally, the victimhood stretches out with the pain and sadness brought to family, friends and others who were close to the women.
I have only been following the case closely for a couple of years. There are others who have been involved for 14 years since the initial disappearance of Kopetsky. One really has to feel for the family to think about it taking 14 years to find justice and even then, hearing a judgement of manslaughter instead of murder.
I remember her disappearance, but only from a distance. Two of my compatriots were in Belton at the time and remember the case’s origins. Brad Seiner, who now sells insurance in Harrisonville, was a reporter with the now defunct Belton Star-Herald in 2007, when Kopetsky went missing.
“At first we really thought it was just a missing person case,” Seiner said. “We didn’t know if something had happened to her or if she ran away, it was like she just disappeared. What made it so weird was it happened in the middle of the day.”
Linda Thompson, the publisher of The South Cass Tribune, was the editor of the Star-Herald at the time.
“I remember law enforcement didn’t seem to take it too seriously, so it pretty well convinced us that it was not too serious. I think they thought she was simply a runaway. The thing I remember was there was just no sense of urgency. Foul play was not first and foremost in our minds,” Thompson said.
She credited the family with not letting Kara be forgotten.
“It wasn’t right away, but eventually they figured out something was terribly wrong. I think it was the family talking and pleading and not giving up that finally got people to pay attention, Thompson said.
Seiner said he thinks about the time that passed.
“I remember they put up a big sign that said something like, “Somebody knows something.” That sign was up so long it faded out. I can’t imagine what this has put the family through. This has taken forever, but I am glad they got the conviction, I think it is a huge relief in Belton and finally some closure for the entire county,” Seiner said.
I remember far more details about the disappearance of Runions. It was like cutting a wound that had never healed. While to the general public it seemed a stretch the two disappearances were related, it seemed like we all knew they were. It was simply going to be a matter of time until the pieces of the puzzle came together.
Watching the trial was eerie. We see trials on television all of the time, but we know those are fictional and can be as spectacular or as boring as the writers wish to make them. In this case, we were watching real people talking to a jury, a jury who didn’t know what all we knew, didn’t hear all that we were hearing and with every piece of testimony or evidence you had to wonder if it was enough to convince these folks of Yust’s guilt.
Watching him on the witness stand the last day of the trial would have been humorous had it been fictional. The arrogance with which he made statements so off the wall and unbelievable was fascinating to watch. His ability to sound sincere as he spun a preposterous tale gave rise to fears someone might buy some of the nonsense and lock the jury up.
Fortunately, the stalling and lying and everything else gave way to the truth and the jury saw Yust for the monster he is. We might all have felt better had they said guilty of first-degree murder, but we don’t know what issues confronted the jury and how they arrived at the decision, but at least the folks who have been waiting years can finally accept the realities and achieve some closure. The families will be in our prayers forever.
On a final note, I do want to send out a kudo to a professional colleague, Allen Edmonds of The North Cass Herald. He worked with Thompson and Seiner at the Star-Herald and led the coverage of Kopetsky case at the time. He also attended the entire trial, from early hearings to jury selection in St. Charles County, to the final sentencing of Yust. He also had to do double duty as the media coordinator for the trial so he was constantly involved with all the media following the case, which in this case was a rather large group. His coverage has been remarkable and his commitment to this story and journalism is worthy of our respect.
As always, please wear a mask.