Jury recommends life in prison for Missouri man in 2 deaths

HARRISONVILLE, Mo. (AP) — A jury recommended on Friday that a Kansas City man receive the maximum sentence for killing two women nearly a decade apart and leaving their bodies in the same field.

The Cass County jury recommended that Kylr Yust, 32, serve life in prison for second-degree murder in the death of Jessica Runions, 21, of Raymore, and 15 years in prison for voluntary manslaughter in the killing of 17-year-old Kara Kopetsky, of Belton.

Yust was charged with first-degree murder, but the Cass County jury convicted him of lesser charges on Thursday. Formal sentencing was scheduled for June 7. A judge will determine at that hearing whether the sentences will run concurrently or consecutively.

The two women were both seen with Yust before they disappeared. Runions left a party with him before she went missing in September 2016. Kopetsky had taken out a protection order against Yust a month before she was last seen leaving Belton High School in April 2007.

A mushroom hunter found their bodies near each other in a Cass County field south of Kansas City in April 2017.

After the sentencing, the victims’ mothers thanked the community for its support throughout their ordeal.

“We’re just grateful to be where we are today, because there were days we didn’t know if our girls were ever going to be found. We’re just so grateful that they were found, and we have them back now,” said Rhonda Beckford, Kopetsky’s mother.

Prosecutors said during the trial that Yust killed the two women because they rejected him. Yust’s attorney questioned the investigation and said prosecutors had no physical evidence connecting Yust to either death.

Yust testified Wednesday that he did not kill either woman, and blamed his half-brother, Jessup Carter, for their deaths. Carter died by suicide in 2018 while he was being held in the Jackson County jail on a charge of second-degree arson.

Before the sentencing, relatives of the two women testified about how much they were loved and how their deaths have devastated their families and friends.

“I don’t get to walk my daughter down the aisle and see her be married and be a mother,” Runions’ father, John Runions, said. “Her sisters don’t get to look up to her anymore. And she loved her sisters.”

Kopetsky’s stepfather, Jim Beckford, said Rhonda Beckford has paid her daughter’s phone bill since her disappearance in hopes someone would call, The Kansas City Star reported.

“If you were to check the phone records today, you will see that I called it on Sunday night just to hear that one little wisp of her voice,” Beckford said.

Defense lawyers called several witnesses to plead for leniency for Yust. They testified that his mother was absent and his father was not responsible while Yust was growing up, KCUR reported.

Ciara West, who has known Yust since she was 15, said she was shocked when she heard he was charged.

“I didn’t ever for a second believe that at all. I’ve never seen him raise his voice,” West said.