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Kylr Yust is accused of murdering Jessica Runions and Kara Kopetsky

By Harriet Sokmensuer
April 06, 2021 03:03 PM
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Jessica Runions, Kara Kopetsky

The trial of a Missouri man accused of murdering two women nearly 10 years apart has begun.

On Monday, a Cass County jury heard opening statements in the murder trial of Kylr Yust, Fox4, KMBC and KCUR, report. Yust faces two counts of first-degree murder in the deaths of Jessica Runions and Kara Kopetsky.

While prosecutors alleged that Yust killed both women with his bare hands, before hiding their bodies in the woods and confessing to their murders, the defense argued there's more to the story.

"Kylr Yust is innocent. This is a long and complicated case that spans more than a decade," attorney Sharon Turlington told the jurors, stating Yust's alleged confessions were a joke taken out of context.

Turlington — who could not be reached for comment Tuesday — also attempted to cast doubt on the prosecution's case, accusing authorities of mismanaging the investigation, and noting the lack of physical evidence connecting her client to the murders. However, Cass County Prosecuting Attorney Ben Butler argued there was no doubt who killed the women.

"When Kara tried to end her relationship with Yust because of abuse, Yust said, 'If I can't have her nobody can," Butler said. "Yust murdered Jessica with deliberation same as he did Kara before: because no one else can have Jessica either."

Both women were found dead after going missing after being last seen with Yust. Runions, 21, was last seen leaving a friend's house party in September 2016. She allegedly left the party with Yust, a friend of her boyfriend's.

Less than a week later, Kopetsky's mother told PEOPLE she believed there was a connection between her daughter's 2007 disappearance and Runions' case.

Kopetsky and Yust dated for nine months in 2007, when they were both teenagers, her mother said. Days before she went missing, Kopetsky filed for a restraining order against Yust, alleging he was violent towards her.

Kopetsky was last seen leaving her high school in Belton, Missouri, during a free period on May 4, 2007. She was never seen or heard from again. She was 17 years old.

Her remains were found in 2017, in a rock quarry about nine miles from the school, about 20 to 30 yards away from where Runions' remains were discovered.

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Kansas City, Mo. Police Department/AP

Yust has a history of violence against women.

In September 2011, Yust pleaded guilty to domestic violence after choking and striking his then-pregnant 18-year-old girlfriend, according to a police report obtained by PEOPLE.

The victim claimed Yust told her, "I've killed people before, even ex-girlfriends out of sheer jealousy. I will kill you," the report states.

The victims' families have anticipated the trial for years.

"Kara has not been forgotten and we're not going away," Kopetsky's mother, Rhonda Beckford, told PEOPLE in 2016. "We're not giving up."

If you are experiencing domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or go to thehotline.org. All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.