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Archive for September, 2020

After plunging into a months-long period of uncertainty, the Kylr Yust case is lurching its way back onto track.

At a 30-minute hearing in Cass County Circuit Court this morning, Judge William Collins told the prosecution and defense attorneys to keep their schedules open for a trial to be held in March or April or straddling those two months.

He said he would be scheduling case reviews weekly, if necessary, “so we can get this thing resolved.”

“We’re not going to get blindsided with new things like we have here the last year,” he added.

Yust has been in the Cass County Jail since October 2017, when he was charged with murdering Kara Kopetsky in 2007 and Jessica Runions in 2016. The women’s remains were found in a wooded area south of Belton in April 2017.

Late last year, the case seemingly was headed for trial in July, when two things happened: First, Covid-19 hit, and then Yust’s defense attorneys exposed a problem that could have jeopardized Yust’s right to a fair trial. The attorneys discovered that the Cass County Sheriff’s Office and a subcontractor that handles its phone system improperly recorded numerous client-attorney calls. In addition, it turned out, a number of client-attorney emails were unencrypted and all text communication was not secure.

The “communication” was accessible to all members of the Cass County Sheriff’s office, and two deputies accessed and listened to all or part of the phone calls between Yust and his attorneys.

A big question at the time was how deeply, if at all, the Cass County Prosecuting Attorney’s office was involved in the improper recordings and other communication snafus.

In light of the flaws, the defense moved to dismiss the case or at least remove the Cass County prosecutor’s office from the case.

Judge Collins appointed a “special master,” retired Judge James Bickel, to sort through the mess and determine if Yust’s rights had been fatally compromised. Two weeks ago, Judge Bickel ruled that the prosecutor’s office “was never provided the content of the above communications” and that neither of the sheriff’s deputies who recorded the calls would testify at trial, assuring that the verboten conversations would not be used against Yust.

Judge Bickel concluded that while Yust’s right to confidential communications had been violated, “the violations do not rise to the level of prejudice that will violate his right to a fair trial.” (Although the case will go forward, the defense would still be able to appeal Bickel’s ruling if Yust is subsequently tried and convicted.)

The privileged communication problem could, in the end, be eclipsed by the biggest issue of all: How strong a case does the prosecutor’s office have against Yust?

Here are some of the shortcomings…

— The Kopetsky case is now 13 years old, and the ticking clock and calendar almost always work in favor of the defense.

— If there is any physical evidence in either case, I believe it is scant. There’s been no indication of DNA evidence and no eyewitnesses that we know of.

— Yust has consistently denied to authorities that he killed either woman. He apparently told some people he killed one or both, but, as assistant prosecuting attorney Julie Tolle told Judge Collins today, all confessions are second, third or fourth hand.

— Sitting in the courtroom, Yust does not look the least bit menacing. He is slight and impassive. His hair is cut short, and while he has a lot of tattoos on his body, none are visible with his arms covered and his T-shirt covering most of his neck.

Besides those alleged confessions, here are some of the strengths…

— Yust dated both women, and he was reputed to be hot tempered. Runions was last seen in September 2016 leaving a gathering with Yust. Witnesses at the gathering said Yust was drinking heavily and “acting very possessive towards (Runions) and aggressive towards others at the party.”

— If the state can establish that Yust was the last person to see Runions alive and that he was acting possessive of her and aggressive toward others, it would be highly incriminating.

— The biggest thing the state has going for it is that there are no other suspects. I don’t think the defense will be able to show, credibly, that anyone else had a serious beef with either woman. In other words, who besides Yust would have had a motive?

— Judge Collins is going to keep the case moving forward.

**

Before testimony begins, Judge Collins and the attorneys will travel to St. Charles County, west of St. Louis, to select a jury. (The judge ruled earlier it would be too impossible to impanel an impartial jury in Cass County.)

After a jury has been selected, the jurors will come over to Cass County, where the case will be tried.

It’s going to get interesting. I guarantee it.

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I know some of you are probably wanting to share your thoughts on the booing that took place during the “Moment of Unity” at the Chiefs-Texans game last night, and I invite you to fire away in the comments section.

…I didn’t see it live, but I watched the first half of the game and later saw replays of the “Moment of Unity,” when members of the Chiefs and Texans locked arms and bowed their heads.

Chiefs management permitted about 17,000 people to attend the game, and it’s hard to say what percentage of people was booing. I’ve heard estimates of no more than a hundred or so, but it sounded like a lot more to me. Could it have been 40 percent? Which is about the percentage of Americans who support President Donald Trump. Could have been.

I have seen suggestions that the booing was not directed at the “Moment of Unity” but at the Texans, who had just taken the field. “Unfortunate timing,” one person said on Twitter.

I’m not buying that. I think many people were booing the “Moment of Unity.” And KC Star sports columnist Vahe Gregorian got it exactly right when he said in his column today that the booing “spoke volumes, betraying the city and team” and “broke faith with the players they (the booing fans) apparently support only as gladiators.”

The game was on national TV, of course, and the booing stirred a lot of reaction. Before you weigh in, here’s a sampling of what a few notable people had to say…

Terez Paylor, former KC Star sports reporter who is now with Yahoo! Sports:

Terez Paylor

So that booing during the “show of unity” is a real good example of why players feel so strongly about these causes in the first place.

Matt Maiocco of NBC sports:

I have a feeling that stadiums in areas that allow fans will be stadiums filled with people most apt to boo “a moment of unity.”

Texans defensive tackle J.J. Watt:

The booing was unfortunate…I don’t fully understand that. There was no flag involved, there was nothing involved with that besides two teams coming together to show unity.

Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas:

We’re a good city of good people. I heard boos, too. But we also have hundreds of thousands more around here who respect the message the players are sharing; who respect the rights of our players and people to voice a strong message and who are working to make us better each day.

Kansas City Councilman Eric Bunch:

Some NFL fans booing the players for standing and locking arms in a moment of silent unity proves that for them “standing for the flag” was always about perpetuating white supremacy.

**

That’s a strong statement by Bunch, and I’m glad he said what he did. Fortunately for him politically, he represents the city’s 4th Council district, which is populated largely by liberals. If he ever runs for mayor, that statement could be used against him in the Northland and the non-urban parts of the city.

Lucas, on the other hand, played it safe, landing in the middle, which he has clearly demonstrated is where he likes to be. He didn’t quite say there were “very fine people on both sides,” but the “good people” reference was too close for comfort to that seminal Trump statement, when he spoke of the white supremacists who wreaked havoc in Charlottesville.

And with that, readers, the ball is in your Red Zone…

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Watching the continuing decline of The Kansas City Star is both depressing and frustrating.

As most of you know, I canceled my subscription to the print edition last month, and I have no regrets. Even in the last month, the paper has slipped noticeably. For one thing there seems to be less urgency to get breaking news in the paper — either the print or online edition. (Online subscribers can still see what print subscribers are getting by going to the “eEdition” online.)

The online “home page” — what you see when you go to http://www.kansascity.com — changed within the last few months to where the lead stories often revolve around sports and features instead of news.

Early today, for example, the lead story on the website was, “How Clark Hunt and the Champion Chiefs went from mess to model.” One day within the last week or so, the lead story was about the Chiefs’ Super Bowl rings.

As you might expect, as the website has gone softer, the overall emphasis on news stories both local and national has dropped off. Sometimes, it seems, there is little or no effort to keep up with the news.

Let me give you some examples…

  • On Aug. 25, the Black ministers of Kansas City unveiled a proposal that would resolve, after two or three years of uncertainty and confusion, how to honor Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. The proposal, voiced at a park board meeting, was for Volker Boulevard, Swope Parkway and Blue Parkway — which run east and west — to be consolidated into Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. This was a major development after the proposed-passed-and-finally-defeated effort to rename The Paseo after Dr. King…I reported the story the day it broke (please hold applause), but The Star, which had been covering this twisting, turning story all along, suddenly wasn’t interested. To this day, a news story has not appeared regarding the proposal. On Sept. 3, nine days after the story broke, The Star ran an editorial under the headline, “Could a new plan to rename KC street for Martin Luther King Jr. finally end this debate?” 

 

 

  • On Aug. 31, The Star had a story about an appellate court ruling on the ballot language of Amendment 3, which is on the Nov. 3 ballot and would overturn the Clean Missouri amendment, approved by voters in 2018. Among other things, the story said the Missouri Attorney General’s Office “will likely move to have the case transferred to the state Supreme Court.” That did not happen, however, and the Springfield News-Leader reported Sunday (Sept. 6) that Missouri lawmakers had decided not to appeal…The Star has failed to report that the language the appellate court came up with is what voters will see on Election Day.

**

Jason Hancock

The main reason for the spotty coverage of Amendment 3 developments is that the paper recently lost one of its best reporters — Jason Hancock. Hancock had anchored the paper’s coverage of state government since 2012 and was as reliable as an atomic clock. He announced on Twitter on Aug. 21 that he was leaving to be editor of “an as-of-yet unnamed nonprofit news site focused on Missouri politics and government.”

The Star has not indicated if Hancock will be replaced. It would seem imperative, but with McClatchy’s recent change of ownership, going from publicly traded to controlled by a New Jersey hedge fund, who can say what is going to happen?

What is clear is that the exodus of veteran reporters is going to continue. Some of the veterans who survived the years between McClatchy’s purchase of Knight Ridder in 2006 and now are nearing retirement, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see several more veterans depart in the coming months.

It’s rough — rough on the employees and particularly rough on the readers, who, it seems, will be getting a diet of more pablum and less meat as time goes by.

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Today, in these maddening political and social times, I’d like to bring you some “droopy drawers” songs.

I’m not aiming to make you sad with this post, just reflective. The great, sad songs of the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s don’t make you break down and cry so much as they calm you, slow you down and soothe the rough edges of the soul.

One reason I’ve always loved the droopy drawers songs is I was always a lousy fast dancer. The Twist was the only popular dance I could do even adequately. Forget the Mashed Potato, the Watusi and the Loco-Motion. But, hell, everybody could slow dance. I particularly remember one steamy summer night dancing with a good-looking redhead at a teen “mixer,” and when I got home I discovered the blue Madras shirt I’d been wearing had bled all over my chest and back.

But enough about my youthful excitability…Bring on the songs!

“Happy, Happy Birthday Baby” — The Time Weavers, 1957

One of the best songs of the Doo-Wop era, it was written by Margo Sylvia and Gilbert Lopez, members of the group that recorded it. It went to No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100. The lead vocals were by Margo Sylvia, who is backed up by her husband John Sylvia, her brother Gilbert Lopez and her cousin Charlotte Davis.

 

“Blue Velvet” — Bobby Vinton, 1963

Songwriter Bernie Wayne was inspired to begin writing “Blue Velvet” on a 1951 visit to Richmond, VA. At a party at the Jefferson Hotel, where he was staying, a female guest dressed in blue velvet caught and held his eye. He went on to have a fling with her. The song was originally recorded in 1951 by Tony Bennett, but it was Vinton’s version that went to No. 1 on the charts.

Wikipedia says a music publisher who was a friend of Vinton’s spontaneously suggested the song be included in Vinton’s “Blue on Blue” album. The friend sent his secretary to a store to purchase the sheet music, and an hour later Vinton had recorded “Blue Velvet” in two takes.

 

“Will You Love Me Tomorrow” — Carole King, 1971

The great songwriting/husband-wife team of King and Gerry Goffin wrote this song for The Shirelles, who took it to No. 1 in 1960.

King had a slower, more evocative version of it on her landmark “Tapestry” album in 1971. (Who over 65 doesn’t have a “Tapestry” album somewhere in the house?)

Great story behind the song. This (with edits) from the Financial Times in 2016…

It was released in the same year (1960) as the first oral contraceptive pill, and few songs have captured the bittersweetness of a cultural revolution more perfectly than “Will You Love Me Tomorrow.”

King and Goffin had hastily married in 1958 after King became pregnant aged 17, and Goffin was still working at a chemical company when the Brill Building’s Don Kirshner commissioned the ambitious duo to write something for the up-and-coming New Jersey doo-whoppers. One of the few girl groups to compose their own material, The Shirelles needed a follow-up to their minor 1960 hit “Tonight’s the Night.”

King bashed out the melody in an afternoon (with their infant daughter in a playpen beside the piano), then dashed out…leaving a note for her husband near the tape recorder reading: “Please write.”

“I listened to it a few times,” Goffin told King’s biographer, Sheila Weller, “then I put myself in the place of a woman — yes, it was sort of autobiographical. I thought: what would a girl sing to a guy if they made love that night?” In just a few simple lines, Goffin nailed the insecurities of a new generation of sexually liberated women. He wrote for a voice that was confident and vulnerable in equal measure: “So tell me now and I won’t ask again/ Will you still love me tomorrow?”

Here’s King’s version, followed by — if you can spare another five minutes — a second stripped-bare version by Norah Jones.

 

“Tracks of My Tears” — Linda Ronstadt, 1975

This song was written by Smokey Robinson and two of his “Miracles,” Pete Moore and Marvin Tarplin. Robinson’s group recorded it in 1965, and it became a Top 10 hit.

I lean toward the Ronstadt version for a couple of reasons. First, I saw her perform live at Memorial Hall in Kansas City, KS, twice in the 1970s and was completely blown away. (My buddy and I were high on marijuana the second time I saw her. We arrived after she had started singing and ended up sitting in the back row because we couldn’t get to our assigned seats…Still kicking myself about that.)

Second, this is the best recording-session video I’ve ever seen. It’s captivating from the lead-in, where three smiling, long-haired engineers are sitting at a sound board not knowing what they’re about to experience…to the end, when the incomparable Ronstadt gives a slight shrug of her shoulders, as if to say, “OK, I guess.”

The three-plus minutes of music between the lead-in and the shrug are unadulterated uplift, even thought the drawers are drooping wa-a-a-y down.

 

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If you didn’t know better, you’d think Missouri Republicans had experienced an overnight conversion and were attempting to mop up the mess they’ve made of Missouri government.

But that’s not what Missouri Republicans are known for, is it?

No, what they’re known for is subverting good government, hatching trick plays and, specifically, having honed gerrymandering to a fine art that has enabled them to maintain overwhelming majorities in the state House and Senate for a decade or more.

So it’s not surprising that Constitutional Amendment 3, which will be on the Nov. 3 ballot, appears to be something good, when it is decidedly bad.

Voters will have to be on top of their game in November and not rush through the ballot because Amendment 3 would overturn the Clean Missouri amendment, which voters approved by a 62 percent to 38 percent in 2018 after a successful statewide initiative petition.

It took an initiative petition because, God knows, the Republican-dominated General Assembly would never have attempted to make redistricting fair or to severely reduce lobbyists’ gifts to legislators. It took Clean Missouri to do that, and, like I say, voters overwhelmingly approved it, which means one thing: Republican voters as well as Democrats endorsed it.

But now, having been beaten at the polls two years ago, the Republican legislators are making a renewed run, this time by trying to enter through the back door. Earlier this year, they approved a bill, which Gov. Mike Parson signed, that put Amendment 3 on the November ballot.

The ballot title the Republicans came up with is extremely deceptive. It’s also extremely important because the ballot title is what the vast majority of voters will be guided by. Here’s the Republican language:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
  • Ban all lobbyist gifts to legislators and their employees;
  • Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits; and
  • Create citizen-led independent bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts based on one person, one vote, minority voter protection, compactness, competitiveness, fairness and other criteria?

Sounds great, right?  Ban lobbyist gifts? Reduce the campaign contribution limit? Create bipartisan commissions to draw state legislative districts? How could any of that be bad???

The critical element in play here is the third bullet, the redistricting.

Under pressure from the press and the public, the legislators have, for the most part, thrown in the towel on lavish dinners, drinks and trips from lobbyists. And the contribution limit for state Senate candidates would go down by only $100, from $2,500 to $2,400 per election, so that’s not critical.

It’s redistricting — the key to long-term power — that the Republicans are fighting to the death over.

The pea under the shell in Amendment 3 is that having “bipartisan commissions” draw state legislative districts is not new. Not at all! It was the very system that enabled the Republicans to gerrymander the House and Senate districts and maintain a firm grip on political power. The system was bipartisan in name only because Republicans, thorough their control of the House, Senate and governor’s office, were able to manipulate the redistricting process.

The most critical element of the Clean Missouri amendment was supplanting the “bipartisan commissions” with a “nonpartisan state demographer,” who would be selected in what appears to be a truly bipartisan fashion. (I don’t have space to delineate it here, but you can read about it on the Common Cause website.)

A nonpartisan demographer — a professional, not a politician — is anathema to the Republicans. So they hatched this cynical plan to try to pass off Amendment 3 as a new, fairer system, when in fact, it would take Missouri back to the old, crooked way of doing redistricting.

**

Fortunately, some Democratic judges have, to some extent, derailed the Republicans’ outrageous maneuver.

Clean Missouri filed suit, seeking to force state officials to clarify the ballot title to represent what it actually would do, that is, overturn the Clean Missouri amendment.

Juldge Patricia S. Joyce

The first judge to get a shot at the language, Judge Patricia S. Joyce — a Democrat who is presiding judge of Cole County Circuit Court in Jefferson City — came up with the best and clearest ballot language:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
  • Repeal rules for drawing state legislative districts approved by voters in November 2018 and replace them with rules proposed by the legislature;
  • Lower the campaign contribution limit for senate candidates by $100; and
  • Lower legislative gift limits from $5 to $0, with exemptions for some lobbyists?

Note that Judge Joyce made the most important element, redistricting, the first bullet point, which it deserves and cries out to be.

Of course, Joyce’s language upset Republicans, who appealed Joyce’s decision to the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District, based in Kansas City.

On Monday, a panel of three judges — two appointed by Democratic governors and one by a Republican governor — further modified the ballot language.

If there are no more changes, this is the title voters would see on Nov. 3:

Shall the Missouri Constitution be amended to:
  • Ban gifts from paid lobbyists to legislators and their employees;
  • Reduce legislative campaign contribution limits;
  • Change the redistricting process voters approved in 2018 by: (i) transferring responsibility for drawing state legislative districts from the Nonpartisan State Demographer to Governor-appointed bipartisan commissions; (ii) modifying and reordering the redistricting criteria.

The judges who made that ruling were Alok Ahuja, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Matt Blunt in 2007; Lisa White Hardwick, who was appointed by Democratic Gov. Bob Holden in 2001; and Karen King Mitchell, who was appointed by Gov. Jay Nixon, the last Democrat to hold the office, in 2009.

Judge Lisa White Hardwick

Judge Karen King Mitchell

 

Judge Alok Ahuja

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Although redistricting fell back down to third place, the language Ahuja, Hardwick and Mitchell approved at least makes it crystal clear for voters that Amendment 3 would unravel Clean Missouri.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Tuesday that state officials had decided, for the time being, not to appeal the latest ruling to the Missouri Supreme Court.

However, an attorney for Clean Missouri went back to the appellate judges Tuesday and asked them to reorder the bullet points and make redistricting the first bullet. If the judges agreed to do so, Republicans might change their minds about appealing to the Supreme Court.

**

Obviously, I recommend a “NO” vote on Amendment 3. It is chicanery of the worst order and deserves to be defeated as soundly as the Clean Missouri amendment was passed in 2018.

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