Kadner: Expert testifies Kustok death ‘not a suicide’
By Phil Kadner email@example.com March 5, 2014 9:02PM
Updated: April 7, 2014 1:31PM
Anita “Jeanie” Kustok did not commit suicide, and the bullet wound to her face was not self-inflicted, an expert witness testified Tuesday.
For nearly six hours, the defense hammered away at the state’s key expert witness in the Allan Kustok murder trial, and it seemed to me it backfired.
Rod Englert, a forensic reconstruction expert, used human models to demonstrate how he believes, based on the evidence, the shooting occurred.
His conclusion is that someone had to be standing over Jeanie, holding a gun within 6 inches of her face and likely holding the weapon, a .357 Magnum revolver, with both hands.
Englert’s presentation, which began Monday, was so damaging that the defense obviously believes that discrediting his methodology is key to getting a not guilty verdict from the jury.
Laura Morask, the defense attorney conducting the cross-examination of Englert, scored some points. Blood spatter detected on a pair of glasses Kustok was wearing the day his wife died ended up on the inside of the lenses, she pointed out.
Englert admitted that by the time the glasses went to a laboratory for testing, the tiny specks of blood were located on the inside of the lenses. He described the blood on glass as reacting like “fleas” to the touch, jumping about and sometimes falling off.
The blood specks, he testified, were caused by back-splash from a gunshot and were among several pieces of evidence (including a blood-soaked T-shirt allegedly worn by Kustok that day) that led him to conclude that Kustok likely fired the fatal bullet into his wife’s head.
Morask repeatedly ridiculed Englert’s description of the blood specks on the glass lenses as “bug-like-looking, static jumping dots.”
She also noted, as the defense has repeatedly throughout the trial, that the crime scene following the Sept. 29, 2010, death of Jeanie was far from pristine by the time Englert arrived to examine the master bedroom where the shooting occurred.
A bloody mattress, on which Jeanie was lying, was found propped up against a garage wall in the home. No one has been able to say why it was placed there or by whom. In addition, the box spring from the bed was missing from the house.
Several items that appeared in crime scene photographs either were removed entirely or moved to other locations by the time Englert arrived at the scene about a month later, and no one has been able to explain how that happened.
Nevertheless, Englert was calm and firm as he repeatedly stated that none of that was essential to his reconstruction of the crime scene or the conclusions that he reached in his report.
Englert told jurors that he collected every bloody item he could find in the home (pillows and pillow covers, along with the mattress) lined up bullet holes with the entrance and exit wounds in the victim’s head and believed that the fatal shot had to be fired from above her head.
It was while pressed repeatedly on his methodology to reach that conclusion that Englert emphasized that Jeanie could not have committed suicide. While he had testified to that previously, it seemed to me his certainty under cross-examination really drove the point home with the jury.
I was surprised that the defense brought up the suggestion of suicide because from the outset of the trial it seemed as if Kustok’s lawyers had abandoned that theory.
I say that because witnesses repeatedly have testified for the prosecution that Jeanie was happy in her marriage, had a positive outlook on life and was a devout Catholic. Kustok’s lawyers, on cross-examination of those same witnesses, drove those points home again.
It seemed to me that after a week of trial testimony the defense was going to suggest that Jeanie accidentally shot herself while reaching for a gun to fend off a phantom home intruder.
Kustok told police that his wife for more than a year had made him search their house for intruders in the middle of the night and that’s why he purchased the gun for her.
Maybe the defense merely believes it has to keep all options open for the jury to consider, but pushing Englert on the suicide theory certainly seemed to hurt its cause on Tuesday.
But the defense has its expert, Paul E. Kish, sitting at its table, and Kustok’s attorneys have implied he’s going to blow Englert’s reconstruction out of the water.
Kish is a co-author of a textbook titled “Principles of Bloodstain Pattern Analysis Theory and Practices,” and he whispered several times to Morask as she was conducting the cross-examination of Englert.
A key element to the defense case seems to be the number of pillows that Jeanie was sleeping on at the time of her death.
Five pillows were found piled up on the side of the bed after the shooting, and the defense has implied she may have had her head resting on all of them, making the trajectory of the bullet different than that suggested by Englert, who contends that she was sleeping on only two pillows based on the blood evidence.
Another key piece of evidence is the bloody T-shirt worn by Kustok that day. It had blood in some areas and small specks of blood in other areas that Englert said was high-trajectory blood spatter that could only have been produced by the firing of a gun.
The defense repeatedly has noted that the T-shirt was tossed into a bag with other clothes at Palos Community Hospital, where Kustok brought his wife’s body, and that resulted in possible cross contamination.
But Tuesday, for the first time, Morask indicated that the defense may claim the T-shirt didn’t belong to Kustok or was not worn by him that day.
It seemed as though the defense was offering every wild theory it could imagine to the jury in the hope that something would stick.
The cross-examination of Englert will continue Thursday, and the defense of Allan Kustok may begin in the afternoon.