Kadner: ‘Perfect marriage’ ends in death
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 21, 2014 10:29PM
Updated: February 23, 2014 2:12AM
Allan and Anita “Jeanie” Kustok had an “absolutely perfect marriage,” and he was forced to have affairs with at least five different women because she had lost interest in sex during menopause.
That was a key part of the message to jurors by the defense in its opening statement Friday in Kustok’s trial for first-degree murder in the 2010 death of his wife.
Everyone who testifies at the trial, including prosecution witnesses, will agree that Jeanie was happy in her marriage, and the couple never fought, defense attorney Rick Bouke said.
Yet, on Sept. 29, 2010, she died in her home from a bullet wound that entered her left cheek and exited behind her right ear while lying in bed.
Lorna Amado-Chevlin, a Cook County assistant state’s attorney, told jurors that early in the morning on that day, Kustok walked around the couple’s bed, put a .357-caliber revolver within inches of Jeanie’s head and blew her face off.
“This defendant did nothing,” including not calling 911, Amado-Chevlin told the jury in an opening statement that lasted less than 15 minutes.
“He did nothing,” she repeated for emphasis. “He did nothing to save Jeanie. For an hour and a half, he kept his crime to himself.”
It’s the contention of the prosecution that it took 90 minutes before Kustok drove from the family’s Orland Park home with his wife’s body to the Palos Community Hospital emergency room.
That 90-minute time frame apparently is a key to the defense and is one of the few areas where it seemed to score some points on the opening day of the trial.
During cross-examination of a hospital security guard and former Orland Park police officer, defense attorneys established that Kustok’s sport utility vehicle pulled up to the hospital emergency room entrance at 6:41 a.m.
Kustok told police that he heard a gunshot sometime between 5 a.m. (when he got up to go to the washroom) and 5:30 a.m. (when his wife’s alarm clock was set to go off).
Asked how long it took to drive from the Kustok home to Palos Community Hospital, former Orland Park police officer Jeff Cavender, now police chief of Momence, said 20 to 30 minutes.
Add to that the defense explanation that Kustok was in shock over his wife’s death, cradled her body for a long period and contemplated suicide, and the 90-minute delay is shortened to perhaps an hour or even 50 minutes.
Of course, the defense at some point will have to convince the jurors that Kustok has credibility. And that isn’t going to be easy from what I heard Friday.
The defense argued that Kustok bought his wife that .357-caliber revolver, a powerful weapon, for an anniversary gift because she had become fearful to the point of paranoia. She frequently would wake her husband in the middle of the night, claiming she heard noises, and beg him to search for an intruder, according to the defense.
Jurors were told that Kustok had an alarm system installed to calm her nerves, but it didn’t help.
His attorneys claim Jeanie asked him to purchase a gun for her protection because he often was away for days on “sales trips.” No one has explained why Kustok chose such a powerful handgun for a 58-year-old woman who had no previous experience with firearms.
The couple told no one about the gun, and after Kustok gave it to Jeanie, he never asked or knew where she kept it, according to the defense. It also hammered home to the jury that no one will testify they saw the Kustoks argue or heard Jeanie express displeasure with her husband or their marriage.
John Runko, Jeanie’s brother, was the first prosecution witness called, and he apparently told investigators early on in the murder probe that of all the men in the world, he thought Kustok was the best person for his sister to have married. Runko admitted that he made the statement because he believed it at the time.
He fought back tears several times as he described his sister as a wonderful, caring person who tried to bring happiness to the lives of anyone she met. He said he communicated with her and saw her on a regular basis, and she never seemed despondent.
The goal of his testimony and that of one of Jeanie’s friends later seemed to be to impress the jury that Jeanie was not suicidal.
In the hallway outside the courtroom after his testimony, Runko told me, “Jeanie Kustok would never, ever shoot herself in the head.”
Somewhat surprising, the defense seemed pleased with the description of Jeanie as a happy person. And during cross-examination, defense lawyers took pains to emphasize that.
Attorneys for both sides also told the jury that during their 34 years of marriage, the Kustoks raised the ideal All-American family. Son Zak was a standout football player at Sandburg High School who became the quarterback at Northwestern University.
His younger sister Sarah also was a standout athlete at Sandburg and went on to set scoring records in basketball at DePaul University. Today, she is a TV sportscaster in New York City and Zak has a career in sales.
Kustok and Jeanie were devoted to their children and remained close to them when they grew into adulthood, the jury was told. But prosecutors said Kustok was receiving text messages on his cellphone from a female friend, wondering when they would next get together, as his wife was lying dead in the hospital.
Testimony from forensic experts will be presented by both sides this coming week, and the defense on Friday went on the attack against the prosecution’s “reconstructionist” by telling jurors “they spent $100,000 of your tax dollars” to hire him.
His conclusions weren’t worth the “paper they were written on,” the defense said, and their expert would be sitting in court throughout his testimony.
I never saw the jury react, but I doubt anyone in the courtroom believed that this was an “absolutely perfect marriage.”