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Thursday, Feb. 9, 2017 12:10 am

Lovelace murder trial slated for Feb. 27

It’s all or nothing for Curtis Lovelace, who has reportedly rejected an offer to plead guilty to second-degree murder and is now preparing to stand trial a second time for first-degree murder.

The former Adams County assistant state’s attorney from Quincy is accused of suffocating his wife, Cory, on Valentine’s Day 2006. The jury in the first trial was reportedly evenly split, and so this second trial would not appear to be a slam dunk for prosecutors. The defense says Cory Lovelace’s death was a natural one prompted by alcoholism and bulimia.

At a Jan. 31 pretrial hearing at the Cass County Courthouse in Virginia, Illinois, Lovelace appeared at ease, chewing gum in the courtroom, even while on the stand, and looking unconcerned as he spoke with supporters in the gallery. However, the hearing didn’t go well for the defense, as Cass County Circuit Court Judge Robert Hardwick, Jr. determined that testimony from Lovelace’s second wife, Erica Gomez, will be admissible. Gomez says that Lovelace was a violent man who went so far as to try poisoning her, although the judge said that the poisoning accusation can’t be leveled during the upcoming trial. Among other things, the jury will be allowed to hear Gomez testify that Lovelace once told her that he “remembered how it felt, her writhing under him.” Prosecutors say Lovelace was talking about his late wife; the defense says he was talking about a cat.   

Gomez, who was married to Lovelace from 2008 to 2013, is shaping up to be the x-factor in this case.  At face value, her presence looks to be a major coup for the prosecution. They previously filed a motion before the first trial to include Gomez, but Hardwick denied it. The defense looks to counter Gomez’s presence by arguing that she is unreliable. Hardwick decided that email correspondence between Gomez and Detective Adam Gibson of the Quincy Police Department, who investigated Lovelace, might be fair game for the defense, which made a point of demanding that prosecutors turn over the correspondence within a week of the Jan. 31 hearing. The content of the emails isn’t clear.    

The first trial, held in January 2016 in Adams County, included testimony from the Lovelace children, who said that they saw their mother the morning of her death before going to school. The daughter, who originally told the same story when questioned by police shortly after Cory Lovelace’s death, later testified that she could not remember whether or not she saw her mother hours before she was found dead.

Dueling pathologists have different explanations on how and when Cory Lovelace died. During the first trial, Dr. Jane Turner testified that the position of Cory Lovelace’s hands held upward supported the conclusion that she had been suffocated with a pillow. By contrast, Dr. George Nichols testified that an enlarged liver and signs of bulimia showed that Cory Lovelace died due to natural causes. Dr. Jessica Bowman, who performed the initial autopsy, could not pinpoint a cause of death and is not expected to testify. Bowman has a checkered history as a pathologist. She was once employed by the Sangamon County Coroner’s Office, but State’s Attorney John Milhiser had such little confidence in her work that he refused to put her on the stand as a witness in murder cases.

The trial has been moved to Sangamon County due to extensive pretrial publicity in the Quincy area. Jury selection is scheduled to begin on Feb. 27.

Special prosecutor Edwin R. Parkinson, who tried Lovelace in the first trial, is regarded as one of the top prosecutors in central Illinois. He’s been a prosecutor for five decades. Notable cases include the trial of Shirley Skinner, who was convicted of first degree murder in 2010 in a case that attracted national attention. Parkinson also won the first death penalty conviction in Illinois after Gov. George Ryan commuted the sentences of all death row convicts.

By contrast, Lovelace is represented by lawyers who concentrate on civil as opposed to criminal law. Lead defense attorney Jon Loevy of Chicago has won 11 cases in a row and has won 20 of 22 cases overall, according to his law firm’s website. He’s won more than $100 million in settlements and verdicts for clients, chiefly for litigants who claim they were wrongfully prosecuted, with one award reaching $28 million.

Alex Camp is an editorial intern for Illinois Times. He is pursuing his master’s degree at University of Illinois Springfield. Contact him at intern@illinoistimes.com.

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