Kylr Yust seemed eager to turn his life around when a judge sentenced him to federal prison three years ago.
“The defendant is remorseful and contrite and desires only a chance to one day return to society and live as a productive, law-abiding citizen,” his lawyer wrote about his then-25-year-old client in a court document before sentencing. “The defendant acknowledges that his conduct was disgraceful.”
After years of court appearances and punishments for misdemeanors, Yust was sentenced to 45 months in federal prison on a felony drug charge. Guidelines recommended up to 87 months.
Yet just 27 months later, Yust was in a halfway house. And two months after that, he was sent to home confinement with his grandfather in south Kansas City. He was freed from federal custody in August.
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“We thought, ‘How much stuff can he do where he seems like he just gets away with it?’ ” said Rhonda Beckford, who with her husband, Jim, was in court when Yust was sentenced in the drug case. The mother and stepfather of Kara Kopetsky — the Belton teenager missing since 2007 — have closely monitored Yust, who was Kara’s ex-boyfriend and was questioned in her disappearance.
“Half the stuff he’s done, if me and my husband had done that, we’d be locked up a long time ago,” Beckford said.
Now Yust is a person of interest in the disappearance of 21-year-old Jessica Runions of Raymore. She was last seen Sept. 8 leaving a gathering in south Kansas City with Yust. Authorities found her 2012 black Chevy Equinox nearly two days later, and Yust was charged Thursday with knowingly burning the vehicle, a class D felony.
Court records show that despite numerous convictions in local, state and federal courts, Yust often seemed to catch a break, serving relatively light sentences in cases including drug trafficking and assault. Some cases in municipal court were dismissed.
In a 2010 theft case, Yust pleaded guilty to felony stealing from a tattoo parlor and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, in addition to time already served. Public records don’t indicate how much time that was.
A 2011 assault case, in which he choked a girlfriend unconscious, was prosecuted not in Jackson County Circuit Court but in municipal court. After initially getting two years’ probation, he ultimately spent 120 days in jail.
As his name continually surfaced on dockets for more serious crimes, Yust also appeared to be under the watchful eye of patrol officers. Starting in 2009, after Kopetsky’s disappearance, Kansas City municipal court records show at least eight traffic citations for Yust.
Officers pulled him over for speeding, failure to obey traffic signs, improper display of license plate and running a red light. Yust also got a ticket for a parking meter violation and for parking in an “unacceptable manner” outside his grandfather’s house.
Six other municipal court cases involving Yust have been closed, meaning no details are available.
Harold Holliday III, the attorney who represented Yust in some cases, did not return phone calls seeking comment. Prosecutors will say little about the cases.
“I’m not going to be able to comment on Mr. Yust at this time,” said Michael Mansur, spokesman for Jackson County Prosecutor Jean Peters Baker. He said the current case involving Runions’ vehicle was under seal.
But Beckford and others want to know why Yust seemed to escape tough penalties on more than one occasion. She and her family, though, want him to know that he’s not escaping them.
A family member tries to be at all of his court hearings and appearances, just as the Beckfords were Thursday as Yust made his first court appearance before Jackson County Circuit Judge Charles McKenzie.
“We want to let (Yust) know that even though we’re coming up on 10 years, Kara’s life meant something,” Rhonda Beckford said. “She meant something not only to us, but now to a lot more people.”
Now, she said, “We need to find Jessica.”
Theft, assault cases
In 2010, Yust worked as an apprentice at Lucky Lady Tattoo Parlor on Wornall Road. One day in October, the owner discovered that someone had stolen three tattoo machines, razors, boxes of needles and bottles of ink.
The owner later discovered most of the stolen property in Yust’s car.
The case eventually went to a grand jury, which indicted Yust for theft in November 2011. In 2014, he pleaded guilty to the class C felony and was sentenced to 10 days in jail, taking into account time already served. Court records don’t indicate how much time he had served, and the Jackson County prosecutor’s office would not comment.
Just months before his theft indictment, Yust had another encounter with the law. In August 2011, Yust’s then-girlfriend told police he had tried to choke her to death. The 18-year-old woman, who told Kansas City police that she was 7 1/2 weeks pregnant with twins at the time, said he repeatedly choked her until she nearly passed out, then struck her on the thighs to keep her from passing out. She said she eventually lost consciousness. Afterward, she told police, Yust threatened to kill her and her family if she reported him.
The woman also told police that six weeks earlier, Yust had repeatedly slammed a kitten to the floor and then beat it to death.
In October 2011, she received an order of protection against Yust from Jackson County Circuit Court. Two months later, she asked that it be terminated, saying, “I don’t need it anymore.”
The assault case was prosecuted in municipal court — a break for Yust because penalties are usually lighter in city cases.
Yust pleaded guilty to assault in July 2012 and was sentenced to two years’ probation. Court records show his probation later was revoked. He was sentenced to 180 days in jail.
Benita Jones, Municipal Court spokeswoman, said 180 days is the maximum sentence in a municipal court case.
“That’s as much as we can sentence anyone to on any one case,” Jones said. “So he did receive the maximum sentence for a municipal court case.”
Yust’s probation was revoked because he failed to attend a single one of 26 court-ordered batterers’ intervention classes, Jones said.
“He was given the opportunity to address the underlying issues, to get help, while at the same time be held accountable, being ordered to stay away from the victim, and knowing that this possibility of 180 days was hanging over his head,” she said. “But he failed to do those things.”
Still, he was out after 120 days — a typical outcome for such a sentence.
Federal drug case
In 2012, five months after the assault case was filed, U.S. Customs agents in San Francisco intercepted a package from China that had been shipped to Yust at an address in Kansas City.
Inside the package, court documents say, were designer drugs.
He first told investigators that he intended to use the drugs as fertilizer to raise vegetables. Later, he said he’d ordered the drugs for a friend.
Yust pleaded guilty in 2013 to possession with intent to distribute a controlled substance. The sentencing guidelines recommended 70 to 87 months in prison.
In a document filed before sentencing, Yust’s attorney pushed hard for a lighter term. Holliday wrote that Yust’s life “has been changed forever as a result of his choices and the repercussions of those choices.”
“The defendant finds himself at the absolute bottom and he is dedicated to separating himself entirely from the criminal conduct that led to his involvement in the case,” the document said. It added that Yust “is remorseful and contrite and desires only a chance to one day return to society and live as a productive, law-abiding citizen.”
The document outlined what it said was Yust’s history of substance abuse: drinking at 11; smoking marijuana at 12; and using cocaine at 14 and heroin at 16.
Holliday wrote that Yust’s childhood “was far from ideal,” with allegations of physical and sexual abuse; estrangement from his parents; and diagnoses of bipolar disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder.
“The defendant continues to feel the emotional and mental effects of his troubled childhood,” the lawyer wrote.
Yust asked for a sentence of 45 months, saying he would use the time to focus on rehabilitation.
“Today, the defendant stands before this court humbled, remorseful, and contrite,” the document said.
Federal prosecutors raised no objection to Yust’s sentencing request, noting that his criminal history showed numerous arrests but no felony convictions and four municipal misdemeanor convictions. (He pleaded guilty to the tattoo parlor theft, a felony, in 2014.)
A 45-month sentence “represents a significantly longer sentence than the 180 days in Kansas City municipal jail that the defendant experienced in 2011,” the government said in its sentencing memorandum. “Imposition of this meaningful sentence is perhaps the clearest message to deter the defendant from future criminal conduct.”
Yust was sentenced Nov. 22, 2013, to 45 months in federal prison followed by three years’ supervised probation. He also faced a fine of up to $1 million, but the government did not recommend one.
He was sent to prison at El Reno, Okla., then to a halfway house in February 2016, according to the federal Bureau of Prisons. Relatives say he was placed in home confinement with his grandfather in April. He received a “good time” release from federal custody on Aug. 5.
Don Ledford, spokesman for the U.S. attorney’s office, referred The Star to the government’s sentencing memorandum in response to questions about Yust’s sentence.
“I don’t think it would be appropriate for us to comment beyond our official statement to the court,” he said. “I would only note that the federal sentencing guidelines are advisory and no longer mandatory.”
Ledford said Yust’s bond was revoked on April 30, 2013, and he was held until the sentencing hearing that November, “so he would have received credit for those seven months.”
Yust’s grandfather, Alfred Yust, said he thought Kylr was getting his life together after he left prison. In the past few months, he said, his grandson was working at different jobs.
Yet on Sept. 2, Yust was ordered by the federal Bureau of Prisons to serve one weekend in confinement for an undisclosed probation violation.
Six days later, Runions disappeared.
Yust could be charismatic, say people who have known him over the years. Yet he could turn angry within seconds.
Still, Kopetsky found herself close to him even after he had done something violent, her mother said.
“The deal with Kara was, she really did love Kylr; she thought she could fix him or if he really loved her, he would quit doing stuff he was doing ...,” Beckford said. “She trusted the wrong person.”