By Allen Edmonds
HARRISONVILLE – Nearly three-quarters of a year after undiscovered reports compiled by the Belton Police Department were found in a desk at the department, creating a firestorm at the center of the Kylr Yust murder case, cellphone records detailing the activities of an alleged rogue Kansas City police officer conducting an unauthorized investigation on the defendant before his arrest remain a point of contention as the trial draws near.
Presiding Circuit Judge Bill Collins, intent on steering the trial toward its April 5 start date, has been conducting monthly hearings with attorneys via Webex, allowing the defense team to attend without making continual trips from St. Louis while also maintaining COVID protocols.
At January’s hearing, held Monday, Collins ordered prosecutors to demand Kansas City Police produce phone records from the officer that allegedly tracked Yust’s vehicle by GPS tracker and further investigated his activities despite being warned off the case by both Kansas City and Belton police department administrators. The officer is also rumored to have had a sexual relationship with a witness in the case, defense attorneys said.
Cass County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Julie Tolle told Collins that the Kansas City Police Department general counsel told her that department staff “is literally searching through thousands of manila folders and there’s just no way they can give a definitive answer on these records until the end of January.
Collins then scheduled the next case review to be held at 9 a.m. Monday, Feb. 1, also virtually, and for the sought-after investigative records to be turned over to the defense by then.
Jury selection in the case is scheduled for late March in St. Charles County. The jury will then be transported to Cass County to hear the case, which will begin at 9 a.m. Monday, April 5, in Division I.
Trial had originally been set for November, 2019, then moved to July 2020, but a myriad of evidence issues encountered by the state’s capital case public defense team, based in St. Louis, has resulted in the delay to this spring – a date Collins is determined to keep.
Additionally, the defense had cited issues with attorney-client privilege when phone calls between lead attorney Sharon Turlington and Yust were recorded last spring.
Collins had appointed a special master to investigate, who ruled Yust’s right to confidential communications with counsel were violated by Turnkey, Inc., the vendor that manages the Cass County Jail’s phone system, and the Sheriff’s Office itself.
He said that 23 attorney-client phone calls were recorded due to software and hardware issues; a number of attorney-client emails were unencrypted, text communication was not secure and no warning was provided regarding that fact, and that communications were accessible to all members of the Sheriff’s Office and that two staff members were known to have accessed and listed to all or part of phone calls between Yust and his attorneys.
The ruling said there was no evidence any other members of the CCSO accessed the files, and that he was assured by prosecution that neither individual that heard the calls would be called to testify during the upcoming trial.
He also said there is no evidence that any of the referenced communications contained anything of a legal nature or related to defense strategy, therefore the violations “do not rise to the level of prejudice that will violate his right to a fair trial.”
Issues with Yust’s mental status were also addressed in multiple hearings.
Yust has been held in the Cass County Jail on $1 million bond for more than three years.
He was arrested in October 2017 following the discovery of Kopetsky’s and Runions’ remains in a wooded area south of Belton off State Route Y.
Kopetsky had disappeared in May 2007 after leaving Belton High School, where she was a junior. Runions had disappeared following a party in September 2019. She was last seen in the company of Yust.