Curtis Lovelace seemed to go into a downward spiral after his wife Cory died on Valentine’s Day in 2006. For friends and family of the popular couple, murder was the last thing on their minds.
That changed after a new detective in the couple’s hometown of Quincy, Illinois, took a fresh look at the case in 2013. The original coroner had left Cory’s cause of death as “undetermined,” but experts who re-examined the evidence believed a crime had been been committed.
Friends and family were stunned when Curtis, a former criminal prosecutor, was charged in August 2014 with killing his wife and the mother of the couple’s four children. But a jury last February couldn’t decide on guilt or innocence after two days of deliberations, and a mistrial was declared.
Now, a second jury — which will hear added evidence of Curtis’ allegedly abusive second marriage — will again consider the case. He faces 20 to 60 years in prison if convicted of first-degree murder.
His retrial is scheduled to begin with jury selection on Tuesday in Springfield, with a new team of lawyers manning his defense.
“Curt is innocent, and is going to prove it,” attorney Jon Loevy, who is working with the University of Chicago Exoneration Project, tells PEOPLE. “There is no evidence that Curt killed his wife, because he didn’t. She wasn’t even murdered. In the age of fake news, this is a ‘fake case’ — it is completely made up.”
A Storybook Marriage?
Curtis’ arrest eight years after Cory died dropped jaws in the historic Mississippi River town of Quincy, population 40,000. Curtis, now 48, had been a Quincy High football standout and captain of his college team, a local sports broadcaster, a teacher at Quincy University, a president of the school board, and a former assistant state’s attorney.
Cory, 38 when she died, also was well known in the community: She was a gregarious former cheerleader, athlete and honors student from a prominent family who became a stay-at-home mom to the couple’s kids. Although they were high school classmates who didn’t begin dating until their college years, theirs was considered a storybook marriage, a princess marrying her prince.
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The news that Curtis had found Cory dead in bed following a brief illness after returning home from taking three of their four kids to school was a tragic end none had seen coming.
Cory’s mom, Marty Didriksen, previously told PEOPLE that she recognized growing strains in the couple’s relationship, but that Cory kept any unhappiness to herself. Before she died, Cory was taking over-the-counter pills to alleviate pain that had resurfaced after four knee surgeries, according to Didriksen. But in her last year Cory also was regularly at the side of her father, John, who battled lung cancer and died three weeks after his daughter.
Didriksen told PEOPLE she forgave her former son-in-law for any part he had in the couple’s struggles. But she also acknowledged that she never harbored suspicions about his alleged role in Cory’s death, and did not assume a verdict either way at his first trial.
“If I ever thought he hurt her, I would not have waited eight years,” she told PEOPLE. “I just never believed that this was something somebody was capable of.”
Prosecutor Ed Parkinson — who again will argue the case against Curtis — alleged “turmoil” in the couple’s home life. But in the first trial, Parkinson was barred from suggesting a pattern to Curtis’ behavior.
Judge Bob Hardwick initially excluded testimony from Curtis’ second wife, Erika Gomez, whose divorce from Curtis after a four-and-a-half year marriage gave rise to allegations in court papers that he was abusive and a recovering alcoholic who was struggling financially before they split. Curtis allegedly “went for the throat” during a May 2012 physical altercation with Gomez after a day of drinking, reports The Herald-Whig newspaper.
For the upcoming trial, Hardwick has ruled that Gomez will be allowed to testify.
Curtis’ third and current wife, Christine, has supported her husband throughout the allegations and the earlier trial.
Conflicting Testimony From Pathologists
The criminal case was brought against Curtis after Quincy Police detective Adam Gibson, who was not part of the original investigation, reviewed photos taken at the time of Cory’s death.
At the first trial, forensic pathologist Dr. Michael Baden testified that those photos — which he said showed Cory in bed with her arms raised and bent — indicated “homicidal suffocation” by a pillow that was left in place while rigor mortis set in. Baden estimated Cory’s death occurred about nine hours before Curtis reported it around 9 a.m. that morning of Feb. 14, 2006.
The defense produced its own experts, including Dr. George Nichols, who argued that rigor mortis is not a definitive clue to the time of death. While the position of Cory’s arms was “a bit unusual,” Nichols testified, “people come to rest in all kinds of different positions when they die.”
Curtis told investigators that his wife had been suffering from flu-like symptoms at the time she died. A defense attorney, James Elmore, argued that bulimia and Cory’s own alleged alcoholism had further weakened her. “She was knocking on death’s door and no one knew it,” Elmore said in court.
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Jurors in the first trial also heard seemingly conflicting statements from the children. Sons Lincoln and Logan, now 18 and 19, said they saw Cory alive before leaving for school with their dad around 8:15 a.m. The eldest, daughter Lyndsay, now 23, testified she “couldn’t say 100 percent that I saw her that morning,” while the youngest, son Larson, who was 4 hers old at the time, said he tried but could not wake his mother while his father was away before returning to find Cory dead in an upstairs bedroom around 9 a.m.
Following the mistrial, Curtis’ original defense team withdrew from the case. A founder of the nonprofit Investigating Innocence, based in Springfield, then offered his family assistance, and last spring the University of Chicago Exoneration project agreed to represent him.
Curtis, who had been in jail since his arrest, was released last June after three other couples posted for him $350,000, or 10 percent of his $3.5 million bond. He was placed on home confinement until the case is resolved.
The trial taking place in Springfield relocates the case about 120 miles east from Quincy, a change-of-venue victory for the defense. Curtis’ attorneys had argued that 80 percent of local Quincy and Adams County residents who were surveyed knew about the case, and more than one-third already had an opinion of whether Curtis was guilty or not.
A two-week trial is expected.