Kadner: A ‘wonderful familly’ endures murder trial
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 25, 2014 10:42PM
The Kustoks' home in Orland Park
Updated: March 27, 2014 6:48AM
It is heartbreaking to watch the siblings of Anita “Jeanie” Kustok during the trial of her accused murderer, husband Allan Kustok.
Older sister Patricia Krcmery was the last prosecution witness on Tuesday. She cried several times while on the witness stand, but the worst moment came as a large photograph of a smiling Jeanie was shown on a big-screen TV in the courtroom.
Asked if she could identify the person in the photo, Krcmery, sobbing and in a halting voice, said, “That’s my sister.”
And then she apologized to the courtroom for becoming so emotional.
Her brother, John Runko, had been the first prosecution witness at the trial of Kustok, 63, who’s accused of shooting his wife to death Sept. 29, 2010, in the bedroom of their former Orland Park house.
Krcmery and Runko were obviously chagrined Tuesday to admit that they initially told police they thought their sister had a wonderful marriage and that Kustok had been kind and loving to her.
The prosecution brought those points up first, but they were hammered home with relish by Kustok’s lawyers, who have told the jury that everyone who knew the couple said they never fought and had a great relationship.
“I would have re-evaluated my thoughts” if she had known about Kustok’s philandering, Krcmery shot back at defense attorney Rick Beuke when he repeated the statements she had made to police after Jeanie’s death.
And had Jeanie known her husband was seeing other women, she would have left him, Krcmery said defiantly as the defense lawyer sought to interrupt.
But that’s just the point, Beuke stressed — for 35 years everyone, including Jeanie, thought the Kustoks had a happy marriage, and only in light of evidence brought forth during the murder investigation had family members changed their minds.
Krcmery and Runko will tell anyone that Jeanie brought sunshine into the lives of anyone she met. She was always happy. Always anxious to make others happy.
“She would do anything for anyone,” Runko has told me more than once.
Krcmery said almost the identical words.
I never knew Jeannie Kustok, who was shot through the head in bed that morning in 2010. But having closely watched her sister and brother in the courtroom for days, I think I have a sense of who these people are.
They are proud, dignified, humble and simply very nice. Despite the terrible circumstances, the grief they must continue to suffer, I have never seen them behave in a discourteous manner to anyone.
And as I have watched the trial, it is impossible not to think about how their family will never be the same — not only because of the loss of Jeanie, but the tragedy and sensational nature of her death.
It shouldn’t have been like this.
The Runkos were a working-class family who grew up in Calumet City. Jeanie was a schoolteacher there before moving eventually to Orland Park with her husband. She was teaching gifted children in the third and fourth grades in the Riverside school district at the time of her death.
The family moved into Orland Park for Zak, their son, who was a football player like his father had been at Mendel Catholic High School in Chicago and the University of Illinois. His father thought the football program at Sandburg High School would give his son the best chance of success.
The Kustoks were devoted to their children, every character witness has testified during the trial. They lived for their kids — Zak who would become a star quarterback at Sandburg and Northwestern University, and his sister, Sarah, a top volleyball and basketball player at Sandburg who played basketball for DePaul University.
She became a sportscaster for Comcast SportsNet in Chicago and was preparing a special birthday present for her mom before she died, according to defense attorneys.
They said Sarah had called her father the night that Jeanie died to tell him that she had secured a video interview with Jeanie’s favorite baseball player, White Sox second baseman Gordon Beckham, which was going to be part of the birthday present.
Krcmery on Tuesday also was thinking of her sister’s birthday. Their birthdays were within a week of each other in October, although two years apart, and they celebrated together each year, she told jurors. She said their mother, “who can’t keep a secret,” let it slip that Jeanie was planning a surprise party for her sister for her 60th birthday in 2010.
You sit in the courtroom and hear that and think of all the special days a family has (birthdays, holidays, weddings) and know that none of that will ever be the same for this family.
Sarah Kustok is scheduled to testify as a defense witness, but she and her “Uncle John” displayed no acrimony as she sat behind the defense table and he behind the prosecutors in the opening days of the trial. In fact, they embraced lovingly and publicly in the hallway of the Cook County courthouse in Bridgeview.
That tells you something about these people as well.
I have watched Kustok carefully as his former in-laws have testified for the prosecution and have yet to see him meet their eyes.
Jeanie and her siblings would talk on the phone once a week, meet for dinner almost as often, and she would always stop by on a regular basis to see her mother, who’s living with Runko in Valparaiso, Ind. Krcmery lives in Lansing.
As Runko had testified, Krcmery said she had no knowledge that Jeanie owned a gun and expressed disbelief that she would ever want one.
Kustok’s attorneys have said he purchased the .357-caliber revolver as an anniversary gift for his wife because she kept hearing imaginary intruders in their home. Krcmery told the jury that in all her conversations with her sister, Jeanie never mentioned those fears or owning a gun.
We all think we know the people closest to us, but we don’t. Runko and Krcmery (there’s a third sibling, Peggy) have tried to figure out how things went so wrong with the “most wonderful family” they knew.
They will never find an answer.
Clarification: Prosecutors said Palos Community Hospital nurse Patricia Fleming told police that Kustok had described himself to her as a “party guy.” Fleming never said those words on the witness stand.