Kadner: Kustok trial and a reasonable doubt
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 20, 2014 8:00PM
Updated: March 22, 2014 6:28AM
Reasonable doubt. That’s all the attorneys for Allan Kustok need to provide to get a verdict of not guilty from a jury.
But as spectators awaited the opening of the murder trial Thursday (delayed for a day when a defense attorney injured himself on ice outside the courthouse), speculation focused on how the defense team could overcome the mountain of evidence assembled by the prosecution.
Kustok, 63, formerly of Orland Park, told police he awoke at home early on the morning of Sept. 29, 2010, to the sound of a gunshot. His wife, Anita “Jeanie” Kustok, 58, was lying next to him with blood seeping from her head into her pillows, he said.
According to police, it took Kustok 90 minutes before he drove his wife’s body, wrapped in a robe and a blanket, to the emergency room at Palos Community Hospital.
Additional police reports indicate that Kustok said he picked up the gun, threw it across the room, then picked it up again and put it to his head, but thought better of it and fired five shots into a nearby armoire.
Opening statements were scheduled for Thursday, but defense attorney Rick Beuke slipped on ice on his way into the Cook County courthouse in Bridgeview and cut his elbow.
Beuke was in the courtroom when Circuit Court Judge John Hynes entered to issue a ruling on a defense motion before calling in the jury. But blood began leaking down Beuke’s sleeve onto the carpeted floor, he excused himself and was eventually taken by paramedics to a local hospital.
Hynes announced that the start of the trial would be postponed until Friday morning.
Sarah Kustok, the daughter of Allan and Jeanie, was in the courtroom Tuesday and Wednesday for jury selection but was absent Thursday. She was accompanied both days by an attorney who kept the media at bay.
A former basketball and volleyball star at Sandburg High School who played basketball for DePaul University, Sarah now is a sportscaster for the Brooklyn Nets.
She has been subpoenaed as a defense witness and sat behind the defense table both days she was in court, indicating that she supports her father. Legally, as a potential witness, she will not be allowed to remain in the courtroom during testimony.
Zak Kustok, her brother and a former starting quarterback for Sandburg and Northwestern, has not made a courtroom appearance recently, leading to rumors of a family rift.
Allan Kustok’s sister, Sharon, has been in court every day with her husband. She was subpoenaed as a defense witness, but Kustok’s attorneys have told her that her testimony will not be needed and she plans to be in court during the trial, she said.
John Runko, Jeanie Kustok’s brother, also has been in court each day, sitting behind the prosecution table.
“I’m here in support of Jeanie,” he told me early on.
He and Sarah warmly embraced each day she was present and went to lunch together.
Kustok, a large man who played football at the University of Illinois, has appeared to be healthy and has revealed little emotion while in the courtroom. He has been held at the Kankakee County Jail under $2 million bail since being arrested for the murder in 2010.
On Wednesday, during pretrial testimony by an expert witness who reconstructed the murder scene, Kustok watched pictures of his dead wife’s body appear on a computer screen at the defense table without flinching.
Forensic reconstruction expert Rod Englert said there were 596 photographs taken of the crime scene (the Kustoks’ bedroom) by law enforcement officers.
Defense lawyers had hoped to keep Englert’s reports and photographs of his crime scene reconstruction out of the trial, but on Thursday the judge ruled that the methodology he used was valid and allowable under Illinois law.
Englert (author of a book, “Blood Secrets”) had testified Wednesday that his tests revealed it would have been difficult, if not impossible, for Jeanie Kustok to have fired the bullet into her head.
In addition, he suggested that if she had fired the gun, there would have been gunpowder residue on her arms and blood spatters on Kustok’s side of the bed (photographs indicate there was none).
Besides Beuke, the defense attorneys are Randy Rueckert, a former state’s attorney, and Laura Morask, who grilled Englert on the witness stand Wednesday.
On the prosecution side of the table are Assistant State’s Attorneys Jennifer Gonzalez, Jim Papa and Lorna Amado-Chevlin, who was scheduled to make the state’s opening statement to the jury before the postponement.
Operating under a gag order, attorneys from both sides have been reluctant to speak to reporters, even about mundane courtroom events and procedures.
There were several empty seats in the courtroom Thursday morning, but if the public is planning to drop by they should know that parking at the courthouse is at a premium early in the day. Lawyers, reporters and ordinary people with business at the courthouse have complained of having to circle the large parking lot for 10 to 20 minutes in search of a space.
Cellphones no longer are allowed inside Cook County courthouses, although court personnel are not yet strictly enforcing the rule. But if people try to use them in a courtroom, or if a phone rings in court, the phone can be confiscated.
Hynes has shown a willingness to work through the lunch hour, and jury selection has continued past 7 p.m. He has told jurors that he expects the trial to last two weeks and be held from 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on most days.
He also repeatedly has emphasized that they are not to communicate with friends or family members about the trial and warned them against doing research on the Internet.
The prosecution is scheduled to open with its statement to the jury Friday morning. But it’s the defense that everyone really is waiting to hear.