Sarah Kustok did her best to try to save her father with her memories of what everyone called the “perfect family.”
But in the end, the murder trial of Allan Kustok, 63, came down to this: Anita “Jeanie” Kustok could not have shot herself in the head as he said she did, and he murdered her in cold blood as she slept in the bedroom of their Orland Park home.
The Cook County jury deliberated for only 1 hour and 45 minutes before returning a guilty verdict, and the time they actually spent discussing the case likely was much less.
Closing arguments ended at 12:53 p.m., and jurors likely went to lunch before taking a vote. They notified courtroom personnel about 2:45 p.m. that they had arrived at a verdict.
I thought defense attorneys Rick Beuke, Laura Morask and Randy Ruekert had done enough to put a reasonable doubt in the minds of at least some of the jurors.
But Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Gonzalez was masterful in her rebuttal of the defense’s closing argument to the jury.
She simply stated the defense never had offered a reasonable explanation for how Jeanie Kustok, 58, could have shot herself on that morning of Sept. 29, 2010.
The bullet entered her left cheek and exited behind her right ear as she slept on a pillow.
Jurors knew she was sleeping because there was stippling, or gunpowder burns, on her eyelid.
And even a defense expert witness said it would have been extremely awkward, if not nearly impossible, for the right-handed woman to shoot herself in the left cheek with a heavy revolver as she lay in bed.
The .357 Magnum revolver that fired the fatal shot was a gun that Kustok purchased, supposedly as an anniversary gift for his wife.
But the powerful handgun is not a woman’s gun, especially not for a woman who had never before fired a gun, Gonzalez told the jury. It’s a man’s gun.
On the sales receipt from the gun store, Kustok had marked a box labeled “target practice” as his reason for buying the gun — not self-defense or security, which were other options.
And while the defense implied that Jeanie had perhaps tried to reach for the gun in a bedside table and accidentally shot herself, why would she feel the need for a weapon when she had a 6-foot-3-inch, 240-pound former college football player with her in the bedroom?
Finally, there was the fact that Kustok did not call 911. A child knows to call 911 in a medical emergency, Gonzalez said.
But Kustok didn’t call the emergency number because he didn’t want medical help or police responding to the call. He wanted his wife dead.
You didn’t need a forensic expert to tell you where Jeanie was positioned in bed that morning, Gonzalez told the jury. All you had to do was look at the massive bloodstains on the pillows, pillowcases and the mattress, she said, as a photograph of the reassembled articles smeared with blood appeared on a large-screen TV in front of the jurors.
If there was a doubt among them at the time, it likely evaporated at that point.
As for Sarah Kustok, she wants to believe that her father always loved her mother, even if witness testimony proved that he was a serial adulterer.
But even Allan Kustok’s sister doesn’t believe in his innocence today.
Unlike Sarah, Sharon Crooks sat in the courtroom behind the prosecution table almost every day of the trial and heard the case against her brother.
“I can’t say I came in feeling he was completely innocent,” she told me outside the courtroom after the verdict. “A lot of facts I did not know came out during the trial. There is no victory in this trial. Our families, both of them, have been destroyed.”
With tears streaming down her face, she said, “We all loved Jeanie. We all loved Jeanie.”
Indeed, if one thing became clear during this trial, it was that everyone loved Jeanie Kustok.
The gifted children she taught at an elementary school in Riverside. Her fellow teachers. Her friends. Her brother and two sisters. Even her in-laws.
But most of all, her children, Sarah and Zak, star athletes at Sandburg High School in Orland Park and later at DePaul and Northwestern, respectively.
The Kustok kids were smart, popular, attractive and really nice. Still are to this day. Just ask anyone.
And that says a lot about who Jeanie was but also has to say something about Kustok.
But whatever he did for his children in the past, whatever his contributions to who they are today, the simple fact is that Kustok isn’t worth the tears that Sarah shed for him on the witness stand. He’s not worth her spit.
A verdict has been rendered in the murder of Jeanie Kustok. Her husband faces a sentence of 45 years to life in prison.
But destroying a family is not a crime. So there can be no justice here.
Having met members of the Kustok and Runko families at the very worst time in their lives, it’s still easy to see just how close they all were once.
John Runko, Jeanie’s brother, had to sit in court and listen to the words he uttered immediately after his sister’s death tossed in his face by the defense time and again — of all the men in all the world, he couldn’t have picked a better husband for his sister than Allan Kustok.
“I said it,” he said after the trial was over. “It was what I thought at the time.”
Jeanie was a great sister, a great person, always positive, always supportive, Runko said.
And then he began to cry.
“There are no victories here,” he said, echoing the words of his sister-in-law.
With one bullet, Kustok destroyed two families.
Why did he do it?
“I don’t know why he did it,” Gonzalez said in response to my question.
Sarah and Zak, she noted, have now lost both their parents.
The verdict was swift. Justice, well, that may be harder to find.