While; the jury did not return verdicts of first-degree murder, it did find Kylr Yust guilty on one count of second-degree murder and just one of count of first-degree manslaughter, bringing an end to a long and painful journey for two Cass County families.
Yust got the manslaughter verdict for the death of Kara Kopetsky in 2007 and the murder conviction for the death of Jessica Runions in 2016. A jury from St. Charles County listened to nine days of testimony and took just more than 24 hours to return the verdicts. The next day the same jury recommended Yust receive the maximum sentences in each count: 15 years for the manslaughter charge and 30 years for the second-degree murder conviction.
Judge William Collins will announce the formal sentence June 7.
The first six days of the trial, the jury heard details of the stories of the two victims as well as seeing and hearing testimony and tapes where Yust confessed to the killing of Kopetsky on numerous occasions.
The defense countered with an argument that police had mishandled the case, ignored Yust’s alibies and overlooked a prime suspect – Yust’s half-brother Jessep Carter.
In a move that surprised many court observers, Yust testified closing the defense’s case.
He claimed Carter was with him May 4, 2007, when he picked Kopetsky up from Belton High School.
Under cross examination, Yust admitted he had never told anyone Carter was with him because “he didn’t trust the police” and he was saving the information until he was in front of a jury.
In the Runions’ case he said he drank too much at a party Sept. 8 and when he woke up the next morning, he saw Runions’ car at his home and worried about her.
Yust said one of the taped confessions was an attempt on his part to impress a girl, one to his mother was to “hurt her feelings” and that others were his attempt “to be famous for something.”
“Looking back on my decisions, I made some bad ones,” Yust said during his testimony.
In summation, the prosecution highlighted its case, including the confessions and said the testimony and evidence were sufficient to find him guilty of first-degree murder.
The defense contended there was no evidence, no fingerprints and no DNA and said in his world of Goth/Death Metal, he was a “weird, twisted celebrity.”
The jury started deliberations at 6:30 p.m. April 14 and returned the verdict the next night at 8:15.
The next morning, the jury heard impact statements from the family of the victims.
Kopesky’s mother, Rhonda Beckford, was first and expressed disappointment with the verdict, but pleaded for the jury to penalize Yust appropriately. She read a letter to the jury.
“I don’t really feel like justice was served where Kara’s concerned… Kara would have made the world a better place and the world is a colder and darker place without Kara in it.
“She was such a bright, shining light that was snuffed out way too early, way too soon. I ask the jury to please give the maximum sentence.”
After others testified, it was time for the Runions family.
Her mother, Jamie Runions said, “I don’t get to see my daughter get married. I have to see all her friends live their lives.
“She didn’t see her sister graduate high school and go to college. She’s going to miss everything and her sisters don’t get the opportunity to know her.”
Her father, John Runions said, “This man took my daughter’s life. You know how I know this? Because you convicted him of taking my daughter’s life. There’s no more birthdays, no more laughing, no more hugs, no more kisses.
“She always greeted you with a hug and a kiss and did the same when she said goodbye. I don’t get to walk my daughter down the aisle. Her sisters don’t get to look up to her anymore. No more I love yous. Our family is broken forever.”
It took the jury just 90 minutes following the statements to recommend the maximum sentences.
The bodies of both girls were discovered in April 2017 when they were discovered by a mushroom hunter in the area of 233rd Street and Y Highway in Cass County.
Yust was arrested for the murder of both women in October of that year and charged with first-degree murder.
Conviction for first-degree murder would have carried a mandatory life in prison sentence with no possibility of parole.