Ex-Prosecutor Found Not Guilty in Retrial for Wife's Alleged Suffocation
A one-time golden boy and former Illinois prosecutor was found not guilty Friday following a retrial in connection with his first wife’s alleged suffocation murder, PEOPLE confirms.
Curtis Lovelace — a former hometown football star and assistant state’s attorney in his native Quincy, Illinois — was arrested in August 2014, more than eight years after he reported finding wife Cory dead in their bedroom on Valentine’s Day morning.
The development startled and captivated the Mississippi River community where Curtis and Cory, a 38-year-old gregarious former cheerleader and honors student from a prominent family, had grown up and raised four children.
Outside the law, Curtis also worked as a school board member, college instructor and local high school sports broadcaster.
His first trial for first-degree murder, in February 2016, resulted in a hung jury. But he was judged not guilty on Friday by a jury in Springfield, Illinois, where the trial was moved 120 miles away from Quincy on a change of venue.
Curtis had the support of a new defense team at his second trial, backed this time by the resources of the University of Chicago Exoneration Project.
Prosecutor Ed Parkinson, who tried both trials, told reporters after the verdict that he felt Cory’s memory was “tarnished” by the testimony and that he was disappointed in the outcome, according to WGEM.
But he said the “jury has spoken.”
The Accused Takes the Stand
“Are you ready to put this behind you and move on?” Curtis’ defense attorney, Jon Loevy, asked him during testimony, surprising several in the courtroom who did not expect the accused to take the stand, WGEM reports.
“Yes,” Curtis said.
He did not testify during his initial trial.
As before, the case focused on the conflicting opinions of pathologists and differing interpretations of photographs taken at the scene after Cory died.
The prosecution alleged she was intentionally suffocated, and that rigor mortis — along with what they suggested was the defensive positioning of her arms — proved Cory had died much earlier than in Curtis’ account of that morning.
The defense counter-claimed that Cory, already suffering from flu-like symptoms, had been further weakened by the effects of alcoholism and bulimia. They said her body simply surrendered on Feb. 14, 2006, between the time Curtis left to take three of their four children to school and later returned to find her dead in their upstairs bed.
The coroner originally listed Cory’s cause of death as “undetermined.” A Quincy police detective, Adam Gibson, who was not part of the original investigation, revived the case in 2013 and shared evidence and photos of the scene with forensic experts who concluded that a homicide had occurred.
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Defense attorneys attacked those opinions and argued that police approached several potential experts before landing on someone who would support their allegation of murder.
They also worked to discredit another witness whose testimony had been ruled inadmissible in the first trial. This time, Curtis’ second wife, Erika Gomez, was brought forth by prosecutors to portray him, during their four and a half years together, as an abusive and threatening alcoholic.
Curtis’ defense team argued that she had leveled a series of accusations against him only to gain the upper hand in their divorce.
He has since married a third time, to wife Christine, who has stood by his side.
“Cory was a good mother,” Curtis said on the stand, according to the Herald-Whig. “I know she did the best she could.”
But he also conceded, “Alcohol was a part of our life.”
He acknowledged at trial that he was also an alcoholic but said he last drank on Dec. 4, 2012, according to the Herald-Whig. His own drinking made it difficult to talk with Cory about hers, he said. But he claimed her problem grew as she took on more responsibilities as a stay-at-home mom, balancing the household and their kids’ expanding schedules.
Curtis said their marriage had “good and bad times.” But he said testimony from former neighbors, alleging that he yelled every day, was an exaggeration.
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Around the time Cory died, “I remember her spending most of her time in bed that weekend,” Curtis testified, in his first public accounting of events from that day. But he said “she was absolutely alive that morning” when he left to take their children to school.
Returning afterward, and spotting her in bed, Curtis said he knew she was dead.
“I think I shook her,” he said on the stand. “I think I yelled at her. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this is happening.’ ”
Loevy, his attorney, asked him: “Did you have anything to do with your wife’s death?”
He answered, “No.”