Kadner: Forensic expert re-creates murder scene
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 19, 2014 10:52PM
Updated: March 21, 2014 3:54PM
Allan Kustok likely stood over his sleeping wife and shot her in the head, according to an expert who re-created the crime scene.
There are rare moments when real courtroom dramas resemble the stuff seen on TV shows, and Kustok’s murder trial had a few of those on Wednesday.
After a jury of seven women and five men had been selected and sent home pending opening statements Thursday morning, Rod Englert, a forensic crime scene reconstructionist, took the stand during a pretrial hearing.
Kustok’s defense attorneys challenged his method of modeling the crime scene. They hoped that Cook County Circuit Court Judge John Hynes would limit the scope of his testimony during the trial, but Hynes ruled Thursday that Englert can give his full presentation.
Englert told the judge that he has testified in more than 400 cases in 26 states as both a forensic reconstructionist and blood spatter expert and explained his methodology,
Basically, he said he looks at a crime scene as a jigsaw puzzle, looking for pieces that seem to form a recognizable picture, and then applies logic and science to see if the missing pieces can be filled in.
“You may have pieces of a cow, but you don’t have the whole cow, but you know it’s a cow,” he said.
In the Kustok case, he used a bloody mattress, bloodied pillow cases, pillows, a bloody blanket, the entrance wound below the left eye in Anita “Jeanie” Kustok’s cheek and exit wound behind her right ear to complete the picture, along with detailed measurements of the bed.
The picture he presented included graphic photos of the dead woman’s body, photographs of the crime scene and two re-creations using human models in both the Kustoks’ Orland Park home and an Orland Park police garage.
From police reports, Englert said, he knew that Kustok had said his wife shot herself (intentionally or by accident) with a .357 Magnum handgun, but attempting to re-create that event proved nearly impossible.
Using a woman about Mrs. Kustok’s height and weight to test the hypothesis, Englert said the only way the victim could have matched up the barrel of the gun to the angle of the entrance wound would have been to cock the hammer first and then, while holding the weapon with two hands, pull the trigger with both her thumbs.
But if that had happened, Englert said, Kustok’s description of how his wife’s arms ended up crossed on her body, with the gun still in her right hand, would have been improbable (but not impossible).
Sarah Kustok, the couple’s daughter and a TV sportscaster, sat in the courtroom as the graphic photos of her dead mother’s body were displayed on a large TV screen.
Defense attorney Laura Morask, prancing about the courtroom and often mocking Englert’s conclusions, did her best to discredit the expert, and for a time he appeared shaken.
Englert explained that his first reconstruction of the crime scene included a desk chair placed inside a metal bed frame in the Kustok bedroom in October 2010, a month after the murder. The chair, along with a pillow on top of the seat, were used to mimic the actual height of the bed and a ball was placed on top of the pillow where Jeanie Kustok’s head would have been.
Morask wondered why he hadn’t used the actual box spring and mattress. Englert said the box spring wasn’t available, and the bloodied mattress was in the garage of the house, standing up on its edge.
Why wasn’t the mattress brought upstairs to the bedroom for the reconstruction? Englert said it didn’t matter because he had the actual height of the bed (two feet, six inches) and simply needed to match that for his preliminary reconstruction.
He explained that the second, more detailed reconstruction occurred in December at the Orland Park police station.
Morask noted that none of the initial reconstructions conducted by Englert in October used the scenario provided by her client — his wife shooting herself.
Englert eventually seemed to recover and provide reasonable explanations for his methods, although pictures of the desk chair sitting amid a bare bed frame did seem odd.
Englert said that based on his analysis, five bullets shot into an armoire in the bedroom likely were fired by someone seated at bed level and came from the direction of Jeanie Kustok’s head. Kustok told police that he fired the shots into the armoire in anger and to make sure that he didn’t act on an impulse to shoot himself to relieve his grief at his wife’s death.
Englert also stated that had Jeanie Kustok shot herself in the head, there would have been blood spatter evidence on her arms, which did not exist. He also said he found an odd blood pattern on some bedroom items that seemed to match with blood on the back band of some shorts worn by Kustok and found in the bathroom of the house.
Blood spatter on a T-shirt worn by Kustok also seemed consistent with what would occur if he were standing over her with a weapon with his arms forming a V pattern, Englert testified.
I’m no expert in the law, but I found Englert’s presentation pretty convincing and could well understand why the defense would have preferred to limit, if not exclude, his forensic recreation of events.
But the defense is likely to present its experts to support its theory of events. There were suggestions by the defense that evidence was removed, tampered with and perhaps even lost.
And Morask said a bullet with a hair on it and body fluids was found in the armoire, indicating, I suppose, that the bullets were not fired directly into it.
It was the sort of jaw-dropping witness testimony and fiery cross-examination you don’t often see in a courtroom.
And the jury trial had yet to begin.