Kadner: A bad day in court for Kustok
By Phil Kadner email@example.com February 28, 2014 7:56PM
Updated: April 3, 2014 6:52AM
It was one of those “Oh, my gosh!” moments you see in TV courtroom dramas, usually preceded by rising background music and accentuated by gasps from the gallery.
In real life, at the murder trial of Allan Kustok on Friday, there was simply silence as jurors focused on a big-screen video monitor displaying an enlarged copy of a sales receipt from Chuck’s Gun Shop in Riverdale.
On the screen, under a line asking why the buyer was purchasing a gun, were a series of boxes with words next to them such as “self-defense,” “target practice” and “hunting.” Kustok clearly had marked the box labeled “target practice” as the reason for buying a .357-caliber Smith & Wesson revolver for $381.50, including tax.
That piece of evidence seemed to undermine the argument made by the defense in its opening statement to the jury — that Kustok had purchased the weapon for his wife as an anniversary gift, for self-defense because she feared home invaders.
Under cross-examination by Kustok attorney Rick Beuke, John Riggio, manager of Chuck’s Gun Shop, said he didn’t remember having a conversation with Kustok on the day of the sale in June 2009 — more than 15 months before Anita “Jeanie” Kustok was shot through the head by the handgun in her house on Sept. 29, 2010.
Jeanie Kustok’s brother and sister, along with close friends, have testified that they never knew there was a gun in the Kustok home.
During an exclusive interview with the SouthtownStar, Zak Kustok told me he also was unaware that there was a gun in his parents’ Orland Park house.
I was surprised that the prosecution failed to ask Riggio if he would advise a customer to purchase a .357 Magnum revolver as a self-defense weapon for a woman in her 50s who had never before fired a gun.
It seems like an odd choice of weapon to me because it’s one of the most powerful handguns available and not easily fired accurately by someone without extensive firearms training.
But no attorney put that theoretical to Riggio.
Kustok told police and medical personnel at Palos Community Hospital the day his wife died that she had been hearing imaginary intruders at night for more than a year. He said he installed an alarm system in the house to calm her fears, but she still would wake up at night and ask him to search the house for intruders.
Kustok and his attorneys have emphasized that’s why he purchased the gun — his wife wanted it.
Earlier Friday, a former Cook County assistant medical examiner, now the chief forensic pathologist for DuPage County, testified that she examined Jeanie Kustok’s body the day after her death.
From the stippling on the victim’s face, scratches caused by the gunshot, Dr. Hilary McElligott said she concluded that the fatal shot was fired at least 6 inches from her head.
That largely would rule out suicide, she told jurors, because people who shoot themselves typically put the weapon in contact with their bodies. In addition, there was stippling found on Jeanie Kustok’s eyelids, indicating that her eyes were closed at the time the gun was fired, McElligott said.
I found her testimony to be among the most powerful in the case to date. Defense attorneys, who have been very aggressive on cross-examination throughout the trial, were unable to minimize the damage.
At this point, it seems that the defense’s strategy of trying to cast doubt on every prosecution witness is beginning to backfire.
They ask questions of the witnesses in an accusatory manner, even when it seems obvious there’s no basis to believe the witness
has the expertise to answer the question. And that’s often the response.
Blood experts don’t know anything about bullet trajectory, a guy examining stuff under a microscope only examined those pieces of a shirt he was asked to examine, the medical examiner accepted the word of police detectives from Orland Park that Jeanie Kustok was right-handed.
Mind you, no evidence has been presented that she was left-handed, nor have defense attorneys implied that she was.
Early on, I felt Kustok’s lawyers were doing a good job raising questions about the cross-contamination of key pieces of evidence and the fact that the crime scene (the Kustok home) apparently was not properly preserved.
The box spring on the bed on which Jeanie Kustok was sleeping when she was shot apparently was removed from the house, and no one has been able to say who did it or why.
The defense repeatedly has hinted at some conspiracy among Orland Park detectives to convict Kustok or at least influence the outcome of the investigation.
But their implications that police should have accepted his version of events, that a shot was fired as Kustok slept next to his wife in bed, that he didn’t call 911 because she was a proud woman who wouldn’t have wanted paramedics to see her or an ambulance to take her to a hospital, would have been difficult to accept at face value.
Then there’s that 90-minute delay between the time the shot was fired and the time Kustok arrived with his dead wife at the hospital emergency room.
The defense on Friday finally said in their version of events that it was more like a 40-minute delay, not including the 20-minute drive from the Kustok home to the hospital. So it was 60 minutes, not 90 minutes, given this defense theory.
Are jurors really going to question the motives of police, given all the other evidence the prosecution has presented, with the testimony of a forensic reconstruction expert still to come?
The defense has yet to present its case, especially its expert witnesses. This should be the high point for the prosecution, having laid out its case without any real contradiction.
But Friday was not a good day for Allan Kustok. The box he marked could seal his fate.