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Zak Kustok on the death of his mom

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Updated: February 27, 2014 11:33AM



There is a gentleness about Zak Kustok that took me by surprise.

A former star quarterback for Sandburg High School in Orland Park and Northwestern University, there’s nothing about him that resembles the stereotype of a football player.

We met Wednesday in the basement canteen at the Cook County courthouse in Bridgeview, the first time he had set foot in the place since his father’s murder trial began.

Allan Kustok, 63, is on trial for first-degree murder in the Sept. 29, 2010 death of his wife, Anita “Jeanie” Kustok, who was shot in the head while she lay in bed at the couple’s former house in Orland Park.

Speaking publicly for the first time since the trial began, Zak, 35, who lives in Chicago, explained that he agreed to the interview for three reasons.

“I’m not supporting my father,” he said, as he held his 21/2-week-old infant in his arms. “I’m here in support of my wife, Nicole,” who testified as a prosecution witness on Wednesday.

Kustok said he feared that his appearance in the courthouse might be misinterpreted, which led to the second reason for the interview.

“There have been reports in the news media that I was supporting my father,” Kustok said. “I have never made any statements in support of him.

“In fact, I have had many requests for interviews and have not responded until now. But I want to make it clear that I have never said anything in support of my father previously, and those reports were misleading.”

Nicole Kustok told the jury that Jeanie was “first a mom and always a mom,” and, as other family members had testified, was one of the most positive, optimistic people that Nicole had ever met.

I saw that in Jeanie’s son when I asked how he has managed to cope with one of the worst family tragedies a person could endure.

“I honestly feel I am one of the luckiest people on earth,” he said.

Obviously reacting to my facial expression, he continued, “Really, I wake up every day next to my wife and feel so lucky. I look at the parents with kids in Children’s Memorial Hospital, sick kids, and think that I am a very lucky person.

“I have my two children (the oldest is 15 months) and my wife. And my mother always told me God never hands you more than you can deal with. I made up my mind early on that I was not going to let this affect my kids.”

He said his children are the third reason for granting the interview.

“I have two little kids who I will spend the rest of my life teaching right and wrong,” Zak said. “Some day I am going to have to explain this to them. They may go back and look at the stories being written, and how do I explain to them that I said nothing at the time?”

So Zak Kustok, a medical supply salesman who’s studying for an MBA at Notre Dame, wanted to get this all on the record.

“As a father, husband and a man, I don’t support the actions and decisions that have been stated regarding my father’s behavior. I feel to be viewed as supporting the man would be seen as some form of acceptance of his behavior. That’s not the man I am.

“And years from now, when my two children grow up and look back on this, I want them to know that I was true to the things I believe in and stood up for them.”

Testimony during the trial has indicated that Allan Kustok had multiple extramarital relationships in the weeks leading up to his wife’s death.

Zak, a deeply religious man, made it clear that he does not support such behavior and that he never suspected his father was involved with other women.

He also said he never knew there was a gun in his parents’ home. His father told police that he purchased the .357-caliber revolver responsible for Jeanie’s death as an anniversary gift because she was afraid of being home alone when he traveled on business.

Zak, who spoke to his mother nearly every day, even as an adult, told me that he never heard her express fear about an intruder in the house or her safety.

During the trial, Allan Kustok’s relatives have often sat behind the defense table, while Jeanie’s brother and sister have sat behind the prosecutors.

Sarah Kustok, Zak’s sister, appeared in the courtroom before the jury was seated but returned to her job as a sportscaster in New York when testimony began. She’s expected to appear as a defense witness.

I suggested to Zak that the murder case must have made it impossible for the two sides of the family to get together for holiday celebrations.

“We’ve been together for the holidays, even recently,” he said.

Both sides of the family?

“Yes,” he said. “We don’t discuss the trial. We all love each other, and that’s never going to change.”

Zak said his relationship with his sister also has not changed.

“Nothing is going to change that,” he said. “We’ve given each other nothing but support through all of this.”

I finally asked him if he thought his father had murdered his mother.

“I’m not comfortable commenting on that,” he said.

But he said his belief in Christ has taught him the value of forgiveness, and he is trying to practice that.

Would he ever be able to forgive his father?

After a short pause, the only one in our conversation, he said, “I’m working on that.”

Throughout the trial, I have sat in the courtroom and listened to witnesses talk about Jeanie Kustok and how she impressed people with her genuine concern for others and her faith in the future. I felt I was seeing something of his mother as I spoke and looked at Zak.

Every word he speaks seems to have the ring of truth. He talks softly and seems almost shy.

“I feel blessed,” he told me. “I really do. Nothing my father has done, none of the decisions he has made in his life, are going to define me.

“My mother taught me to take pride in being a good husband, a good father, a good man. She took pride in being a good person. That’s what will define who I am.”



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