By Allen Edmonds
HARRISONVILLE – In a dramatic moment during a Monday afternoon case review less than two months before the scheduled start of Kylr Yust’s double homicide trial , Cass County Assistant Prosecuting Attorney Julie Tolle disclosed to the court that she had just that morning been given 43 disks of case information related to the disappearance of victim Kara Kopetsky by the Belton Police Department.
The resulting discovery issues prompted Presiding Circuit Judge William Collins on Tuesday to issue an order delaying the trial indefinitely. Yust had been scheduled to go on trial the first week of November for the 2007 murder of Belton High School student Kara Kopetsky, 17, and the 2016 murder of Raymore-Peculiar High School graduate Jessica Runions, 21. Remains of both victims were found near each other in dense woods south of Belton.
Police Chief James Person on Tuesday evening denied any responsibility for the failure Tolle placed on his department, but did not respond when told that Tolle had specifically told the court that the files in question had not previously been provided to the State.
The case review was a follow-up to one held two weeks ago, when the issue of missing discovery was first raised by defense attorneys Sharon Turlington and Robert Lundt of the state public defender’s office’s capital defense team.
At that hearing, numerous files listed on inventory sheets were cited as missing or unreadable due to technical issues, but in the days since, those issues were resolved, Tolle told Presiding Circuit Judge William Collins.
“Judge, we have communicated with the defense in this case. Any discs that they previously were not able to open, my understanding in talking to Ms. Turlington this morning is that they have been able to open those discs either with new ones being provided by the State or with opening them on the proper device.”
However, Tolle said, “this morning – or just a few moments ago, the State did provide the defense with some additional discovery. As an abundance of caution, the State went to the Belton Police Department to ensure that we had each and every document and every bit of discovery that needed to be turned over.
“When we were at the Belton Police Department, we learned that there was some additional discovery that had not been provided to the State. So, just earlier today, we provided that to the defense in this case,” Tolle said.
“All right,” said Collins from the bench. “What was it that wasn’t provided by the Belton Police Department?”
“Judge,” Tolle said, “there is approximately 40-something discs in there that contain reports – everything from miscellaneous reports from the Belton Police Department to reports from the FBI, to tips that had been sent in regarding Kara’s disappearance over the years. They had not been provided to the State, Judge,” Tolle said.
Turlington confirmed the number of discs.
“There’s 43 discs provided to us,” Turlington said.
“All right,” Collins said. “Is there any other discovery that is outstanding now?”
“None known to the State, Judge,” Tolle said.
On Tuesday evening, Person replied to an email request for comment.
“All requests for discovery go through the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office. The Belton Police Department has met with the PA and assistants often for years collaborating on this case. All media requests are being referred to the Cass County Prosecutor’s Office.”
When told that the Prosecutor’s Office had spoken, in open court, placing the responsibility for the missing files on his department, he didn’t reply.
Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Butler also failed to reply to a request for further comment.
Following the customary initial discovery production following Yust’s arraignment last fall, defense attorneys made a first supplemental request for discovery in January of this year, followed by a second supplemental request in February, a third supplemental request in April, a fourth supplemental request in June, a fifth supplemental request in July and a sixth supplemental request in August.
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Additionally on Monday, Collins was told by Turlington that Lundt, the second-chair defense attorney, would be retiring immediately for health reasons. She said he had already interviewed candidates to replace him on the Yust defense team, and would have a candidate on board for the next scheduled case review in two weeks.
She said that she had delayed conducting several depositions because of Yust’s “incompetency,” and asked that Collins take the trial off the November docket for that reason.
Turlington had filed a motion asking that Yust be found incompetent to assist in his defense, thereby delaying prosecution until such time as he becomes competent. As part of her motion, Turlington cited the examination results provided by a St. Louis psychiatrist. At the last case review, Collins had ordered an examination by a state doctor be conducted at the Fulton Correctional Center.
“There is not enough time statutorily in order to give the Department of Mental Health enough time to do an adequate evaluation,” Turlington said.
Collins said at that point that he was unwilling to consider postponing the trial for that reason, opting instead for a status update on Sept. 30.
During another point in the hearing, Turlington said, “Mr. Yust has been found incompetent,” to which Collins responded, “Back up, Ms. Turlington, I make that determination. That is somebody you hired and the State hasn’t had an opportunity to respond, so that’s not really a correct statement of the law.”
Collins said that doctors have been asked to get involved, but in the meantime, there has been “no hearing involving evidence over the mental health of Mr. Yust, so nothing has been determined yet.”
Turlington had asked that Yust not be required to attend the hearing due to competency issues, but Collins denied the motion. “He’s on his way up now,” he said.
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With trial indefinitely suspended, the next case review is set for 1:30 p.m. Monday, Sept. 30, to follow up on discovery status as well as competency issues.