Kadner: Forensic experts key in Kustok trial
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org February 27, 2014 8:42PM
Updated: February 28, 2014 3:54PM
The outcome of Allan Kustok’s murder trial likely will rest on the testimony of expert witnesses.
While the prosecution presented a lot of circumstantial evidence early in the trial, the jury ultimately will need evidence to determine beyond a reasonable doubt that Kustok shot his wife, Anita “Jeanie” Kustok, in the head as she slept in the bed of their Orland Park home Sept. 29, 2010.
That’s where Rod Englert comes in. He’s a forensic reconstruction expert out of Oregon who was questioned extensively in a pretrial challenge to his methodology and procedures.
During that court appearance, Englert indicated that he lined up the entrance and exit wounds in Mrs. Kustok’s head to holes in a pillow and pillow cases she likely was lying on and determined that the trajectory led him to conclude that the bullet was fired a few inches from her face, which was turned slightly to the side.
At the Orland Park police station, he had a woman about the same size as Mrs. Kustok attempt to line up the barrel of a .357-caliber revolver in the correct location, and he determined that the weapon could not have been fired by her using one hand.
Only when the Jeanie Kustok stand-in used both hands, holding the trigger with both thumbs, could she have fired the bullet in the correct path, according to Englert, who said that would have resulted in the victim dropping the gun in a much different location than Kustok described to police.
Kustok told police that he was sleeping next to Jeanie when he heard the gunshot and found her with her arms crossed over her chest, right over left, with the revolver still in her right hand.
Defense attorneys have indicated that their expert will demonstrate that Englert’s methodology is poor, conclusions incorrect and his final report “not worth the paper it is written on.”
Prosecutors have called on other expert witnesses to prepare jurors for Englert’s testimony.
One of them was William Chapin, who identified himself as a microscopicist, an employee of McCrone Laboratories, who uses specialized microscopes to analyze very small particles of matter, most often looking for flaws in manufacturing products. He said he has testified in criminal trials.
Chapin told jurors that he used his microscopes to find tiny particles that appeared to be blood on a pair of eyeglasses worn by Kustok on the day of the murder, along with similar particles on a blood-soaked T-shirt that Kustok wore to Palos Community Hospital when he brought his wife’s body there. Chapin said he removed some of those particles from the eyeglasses and sent them to another specialist at a DNA lab for testing.
The defense was so eager to discredit these expert witnesses that it has focused repeatedly on the fact that the prosecution outsourced this forensic work to private laboratories instead of using the Illinois State Police crime lab. Englert’s work alone cost $100,000 of “your tax dollars,” a defense lawyer told the jury in the opening statement.
But the defense also has made a case for cross-contamination of key pieces of evidence, noting that the clothes Kustok wore to the hospital eventually all were stuffed together in a hospital garment bag, not separately in evidence bags. The eyeglasses were placed in the same bag with the bloody clothes in an unsealed white envelope, testimony revealed.
While the gray T-shirt, with the words “Philadelphia Soul Football” on the front, was covered in blood, the prosecution has focused on some very small blood stains, tiny dots, that Englert said were caused by blood spatter — impact stains from the firing of the revolver into Mrs. Kustok’s head.
He also concluded that there were similar stains on the gun and on the spectacles worn by Kustok that day.
However, the DNA expert for the prosecution, who said his field is analyzing tiny specks of blood evidence that most laboratories cannot analyze, had a difficult time finding enough blood to reach a conclusion based on any individual speck from the eyeglasses.
He eventually had to mix several samples from the eyeglasses together to reach the conclusion that there appeared to be a match to Jeanie Kustok’s blood, and defense lawyers also attacked his methodology.
There was nothing that sounded like a “smoking gun” in any of that, but Englert’s reconstruction will attempt to tie it all together for jurors.
And those jurors already have heard a lot of evidence aimed at leading them to a guilty verdict.
Kustok took 90 minutes to drive his dead wife to the hospital in his sport utility vehicle. He spent time trying to wipe up her blood, time the defense contends he spent holding his wife in his arms, contemplating suicide and trying to make her look presentable.
But he never called 911.
And then there’s his use of the ashleymadison.com website, an online service for married people wanting to hook up. In addition, on several occasions Kustok simply approached women on the street, apparently looking for dates.
Before the trial began, there was speculation that the defense might try to convince jurors that Mrs. Kustok was suicidal. But attorneys for both sides have gotten witnesses to testify that she was happy in her marriage, very religious and had a positive outlook on life.
The only suggestion of mental instability has come from defense lawyers who contend that Jeanie repeatedly, over many months, woke her husband in the middle of the night and claimed to have heard intruders in the house. That was why Kustok bought her the gun as an anniversary present, they’ve said.
The implication, it seems to me, is that Mrs. Kustok between 5 a.m. and 5:30 a.m. on the day of her death heard a noise in the house, took out the gun and accidently shot herself.
That’s why Englert’s testimony, that she had to have deliberately held the gun in a very awkward position to fire it and cause her wound, could prove devastating.