How Cory Lovelace's Mother Forgave Ex-Son-in-Law Curtis, Who is Charged with Cory's Murder: 'Otherwise it Eats You Alive'

Curtis Lovelace, who has pleaded not guilty, was charged eight years after the fact with suffocating wife on Valentine's Day

Photo: Courtesy Marty Didriksen

Cory Didriksen was a go-getter. Upbeat and hard-working, “she always had a smile on her face,” recalls her mom, Marty.

She easily recounts her daughter’s many accomplishments growing up in Quincy, Illinois, and at the University of Iowa, where Cory was an Academic All-American named to the Honors Program.

When Cory announced to her mom one day, “I’ve met the man I’m going to marry,” the name came as a surprise: Curtis Lovelace, a former high school classmate of Cory’s and hometown football hero, who by then had taken his talents and the town’s well-wishes with him to the University of Illinois, where Curtis would become caption of the team.

Although the two never dated before going their separate ways to college, Marty Didriksen could see her daughter’s happiness. “If you love him, that’s all that matters,” she told Cory. “And she did.”

When the pair married in January 1991 followed by a reception at the Quincy Country Club, “people were excited about the promise of this couple,” Didriksen says.

Then the promise shattered.

I Just Never Believed that this Was Something Somebody Was Capable of

On the morning of Valentine’s Day 2006, Curtis said he returned home from taking the oldest of the couple’s four kids to school and found Cory, who’d been briefly ill with flu-like symptoms, dead in bed. Eight years later came another jolt: Curtis – who’d gone on to serve as president of the local school board, an Adams County assistant state’s attorney, and a teacher at Quincy University – was charged with Cory’s suffocation murder.

As he heads to trial Jan. 25 – Curtis has pleaded not guilty – Cory’s mom tells PEOPLE she never held any suspicions and doesn’t know where the truth lies.

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“If I ever thought he hurt her, I would not have waited eight years,” she says. “I just never believed that this was something somebody was capable of.”

For more on how Cory Lovelace’s family is coping with her death and the upcoming murder trial of Cory’s former husband Curtis, pick up this week’s issue of PEOPLE on newsstands now

Police and the prosecutor have not revealed a motive. Although the death was investigated and the facts reviewed during a coroner’s inquest, the manner of death still was listed as “undetermined” when a newly named Quincy Police detective, Adam Gibson, looked anew at the case file in 2013.

A grand jury voted to indict Curtis in August 2014.

Cory’s mom recalls that her daughter, a stay-at-home mom after the couple returned to Quincy to raise their kids, struggled with painful knee problems aggravated by a cheerleading accident as a high school freshman. Four surgeries followed. As the pain eventually returned, Cory took over-the-counter pain pills for comfort.

And Cory was dealt a blow when her beloved father, John, was diagnosed in 2002 with stage 4 lung cancer. In the last year of his life, says Cory’s mom, Cory would visit and sit with her father almost every night. John Didriksen died three weeks after losing his daughter.

Didriksen Says Son-In-Law ‘Innocent Until Proven Guilty’

Somewhat earlier Cory’s and Curtis’ once-storybook marriage had developed fissures apparent to Cory’s mom. But during her father’s decline, Cory kept matters to herself. “She did not talk about things that troubled her,” says her mom. “I knew what was going on. But we didn’t talk much about it.”

It’s those struggles – rather than any blame for the current criminal allegations – that led Didriksen to forgive her former son-in-law for whatever role he might have played in Cory’s unhappiness. She refuses to prejudge the court case while awaiting its outcome as Curtis – who remarried, divorced, and remarried again – sits in jail on a $5 million bond.

“Innocent until proven guilty is No. 1,” Didriksen says. “And No. 2, there’s some peace in the fact that I have forgiven, because I have to. I’ve forgiven because otherwise it eats you alive. The rest of this you just live with.”

“If he’s guilty, he pays the time,” she says. “We still don’t have Cory.”

For more about the allegations that Curtis Lovelace murdered his wife, pick up a copy of this week’s PEOPLE on newsstands now.

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