HARRISONVILLE, Mo — It was an emotional day at the Cass County Courthouse as the family of Jessica Runions told the jury how the young woman’s disappearance and death has affected them.
Runions’ disappeared in September 2016 after leaving a party with Kylr Yust. Days later, Runions’ car was found torched in Kansas City, and when police questioned Yust, his face and hands were burned. Yust was arrested for charges related to burning her car.
In April 2017, Runion’s body was found in a wooded area in rural Cass County and Yust was charged with her murder.
Four years later, a jury found Yust guilty of second-degree murder in Runions’ death. The jury took into account how Runions’ death affected her family when it decided to recommend Yust spend 30 years in prison for murdering her.
The Runions family’s victim impact statements were difficult to watch Friday before the jury made its sentencing recommendation.
“She was in the prime of life,” Jessica’s father John Runions told the jury. “She was 21 years old. She had the whole world ahead of her.”
Jessica’s family described her as a generous, loyal young woman who loved music, dancing and baking. Most of all she loved her family, especially her little sisters.
“She wasn’t there for my first dance or my first heartbreak,” sister Megan Runions said through her tears. “She wasn’t there for any of it, and I know that if she could, she would’ve.”
Megan was just 14 when her big sister disappeared. She told the jury that she fell into such despair, she dropped out of high school after becoming known as the dead girl’s sister and didn’t want to live anymore.
“As time went by, I started to get more empty because I didn’t know how to feel anymore, because she wasn’t there anymore to hold my hand in my life,” Megan said.
The girls’ mother, Jamie Runions, recounted the overwhelming crisis.
“So not only was I searching for one daughter, I was trying to keep my other daughter alive,” Jamie Runions said in a strained voice. “My focus was we have to find Jessica. She is out in the woods. She’s not buried. In snow, rain, it’s cold. She has nobody there for her. She has nobody there who loves her or protects her. She is by herself in the woods. Seven months we searched.”
On a large screen in the court room, jurors saw a picture of Jessica standing with her dad before prom — a young girl in a light blue dress full of dreams and a bright future.
“See how beautiful she is? See how innocent she is?” John Runions asked the jurors. “That’s gone now. We don’t get that anymore.”
The jury recommended the maximum sentence allowed for second-degree murder in the case of Jessica Runions and 15 years, which is the maximum for voluntary manslaughter, in the case of Kara Kopetsly.
The judge requested a presentence report and set June 7 as the final sentencing date. At that time the judge accept the jury’s recommendation or make a different decision.
The judge will also decide if the two sentences will at the same time or if Yust will have to serve the sentences one after the other, which means he would spend more time in prison, up to 45 years.