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Kustok children split, but still united: Kadner

Zak Kustok Bridgeview Courthouse Wednesday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

Zak Kustok at the Bridgeview Courthouse on Wednesday. | Alex Wroblewski/Sun-Times

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Updated: April 12, 2014 6:28AM

Even after learning that her father cheated on her mother, Sarah Kustok testified Monday, she does not believe Allan Kustok could have murdered his wife.

Kustok is charged with first-degree murder, accused of firing a bullet at close range into his wife’s face in the bedroom of their Orland Park home.

In an exclusive interview earlier with the SouthtownStar, Sarah’s brother, Zak, wasn’t nearly as certain about his father’s conduct on Sept. 29, 2010.

“I’m not comfortable commenting on that,” Zak said, when I asked him if he thought his father had murdered his mother, Anita “Jeanie” Kustok.

It was the only time Zak has commented publicly on the case.

The Kustok siblings appear to be on opposite sides regarding their father’s guilt, but the tragedy seems to have actually accentuated what they have in common.

Their love for each other appears to have survived both the death of their mother and the trial of their father. Each has expressed public support for the other, and they remain in constant contact.

Zak talked in glowing terms of his mother as a positive influence who taught him “to take pride in being a good husband, a good father, a good man. She took pride in being a good person.

“That’s what will define who I am,” he said during the interview.

Sarah, on the witness stand, fought back tears when asked to describe her mother.

“I don’t think we have enough time,” she said, staring directly at the jury. “She was and is more important to me than any human being in the world. I can’t even put into words the kind of human being she was.”

She was always a mother but also her “best friend,” Sarah testified.

Even as an adult, Sarah telephoned her mother nearly every day, sometimes several times a day, and sent her text messages throughout the day, even as she worked as a broadcaster for Comcast SportsNet in Chicago.

Growing up in Lansing, Frankfort and Orland Park, Sarah said her family was a team, each member supporting the others, where every important decision was discussed and everyone had a say.

“You were a close family?” a defense attorney asked.

“Close would be an understatement,” she responded.

And yet she is supporting her father, and Zak is not.

Zak, 35, and Sarah, 32, were star athletes at Sandburg High School in Orland Park. A quarterback for the football team, he went on to play for Northwestern University. Sarah played volleyball and basketball in high school and had a basketball scholarship to DePaul University.

“I chose DePaul because it was close to home,” she said, and her parents would be able to come to games.

And they did, often traveling to away games to see her play. Her brother also often came to her games, as she had to his.

That was nothing new. During their high school years, Zak and Sarah’s parents were fixtures at every game, often sitting in the last row, high up in the stands for Sarah’s games, according to those who watched the children grow up.

“I never once heard them yell at an official or shout a disparaging word at a coach or opposing player,” said a prep sportswriter who covered the games for years.

Yet, as close as the family was (Zak also said he talked to his parents almost every day in adulthood), neither Zak nor Sarah ever suspected that their father was a serial philanderer.

Both said they never knew there was a gun in the Kustok home. And they were equally adamant that their mother “never” would have committed suicide.

Regarding Kustok’s cheating, Zak told me, “As a father, husband and a man, I don’t support the actions and decisions that have been stated regarding my father’s behavior. I feel to be viewed as supporting the man would be seen as some form of acceptance of his behavior. That’s not the man I am.”

Sarah, on the witness stand, also condemned her father’s adultery.

“I do not condone that. I find it wrong,” she said.

But “no,” it did not change her opinion of whether her father was capable of killing her mother. She doesn’t believe he could have done it.

The Kustoks were a religious family, Catholics who attended church every Sunday, with Jeanie sometimes going to mass in the middle of the week.

Where Zak appeared to be skeptical of his father’s statements since their mother’s death, Sarah appeared unquestioning to the point of disbelief.

Asked by Assistant State’s Attorney Jennifer Gonzalez what she thought of her father’s failure to call 911 the morning Jeanie Kustok was shot, Sarah said, “I, really, to be honest, have not thought about that.”

Asked if she had ever asked her father why he didn’t call 911, Sarah said, “No.”

The last answer could be explained away by the fact that Kustok has been in jail since the death of his wife, and Sarah had to know that any jail conversation might be monitored or taped.

Asked, with her mother dead, if she wanted to see her father sent to prison, Sarah said, “No.”

For those who suspect the Kustok children exaggerated in claiming that the death of their mother had not impacted their personal relationship, I can offer some insight.

At the courthouse Monday, Sarah hugged her grandmother, Allan’s mother, and her aunts and uncles on her father’s side of the family.

And she was embraced just as warmly by aunts and an uncle (sisters and brother of Jeanie) who have sat behind the prosecution table throughout the trial.

As for her father, I never saw him look at her as she testified, nor express any emotion, even as she broke down on the witness stand recalling an idyllic childhood.

“Great kids,” everyone says when asked about Sarah and Zak.

Now, they are also victims.


Twitter: @scoop2u

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