Time is of the essence
When Curtis Lovelace’s wife expired was a center of debate on Thursday as a pathologist hired by the prosecution painted a picture of murder.
Dr. Werner Spitz is a high-caliber hired gun, having helped investigate the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr. – in the Kennedy case, he told the House Select Committee on Assassinations that the initial autopsy was riddled with mistakes. Spitz also worked with the same committee in probing the King assassination. Spitz testified for the defense at the trial of Casey Anthony, who was acquitted in 2011 of killing her daughter Caylee. Spitz was less persuasive in the 2007 trial of Phil Spector, when he also testified for the defense. Spitz has also rendered opinions in the deaths of Mary Jo Kopechne and JonBenet Ramsey as well as Ron Goldman and Nicole Simpson.
At 90, Spitz is old-school personified, and he often reminded the jury in the Lovelace case that he’s been a forensic pathologist for 64 years. He testified that Cory Lovelace, the defendant’s wife who was found dead in bed on Valentine’s Day in 2006, had been suffocated. Jessica Bowman, the pathologist who conducted the autopsy, couldn’t pin down a cause of death, and so Curtis Lovelace, a former Adams County prosecutor and University of Illinois football star, remained free until 2014, when he was arrested and charged with murder. A trial last year ended in a hung jury. The proceedings have been moved to Sangamon County due to pre-trial publicity.
The defense says that Cory Lovelace was an alcoholic and bulimic who did herself in by drinking to excess while not eating properly. Not so, said Spitz.
“This is not an accident, this is not a natural death, this is not a suicide – this is homicide, and that is what I would have signed it off (as),” Spitz said on the stand.
When, exactly, Cory Lovelace died could prove a crucial point.
Spitz testified that Cory Lovelace died on Feb. 13, contrary to a coroner’s report that states she died the next morning. Joe Loevy, the lead defense attorney, challenged Spitz’s conclusions by pointing out that the decedent’s children have said that they saw her alive before they left for school on Valentine’s Day.
“Do you take that into consideration?” Loevy asked Thursday during a cross-examination that lasted four hours.
“Yes, I took that into consideration,” Spitz answered. The stakes were obvious: If Spitz couldn’t pinpoint the time of death, what else could he get right?
Spitz, who based his conclusions largely on photographs of the body, testified that Cory Lovelace’s right eye was surrounded by a black spot, the type that can develop when an eye left open dries over time. A cut inside her mouth, the doctor said, came from an object, perhaps a pillow, being pressed against her face. He also found bruising in areas of her neck.
Loevy, a civil-law specialist who is taking a rare foray into criminal law, forced Spitz to admit that anything is possible when it comes to determining why someone died. But the doctor barely budged.
“I acknowledge that anything is possible, but I don’t testify to anything that’s possible,” Spitz said. “I testify to what is reasonable medical certainty.”
Contact Alex Camp at firstname.lastname@example.org.