Ex-prosecutor, football star on trial in wife’s 2006 death

A star football player at the University of Illinois, Curtis Lovelace returned to his western Illinois hometown with a law degree, later serving as a prosecutor who held lawbreakers accountable and as the local school board president.

The former team captain and two-time All-Big Ten standout now faces his own day in court on a first-degree murder charge in the killing of his first wife, who died on Valentine’s Day in 2006. Jury selection began Monday in Quincy, Illinois.

Lovelace, 47, has pleaded not guilty to the charge, which came eight and a half years after Cory Lovelace’s death at home. An initial autopsy on the 38-year-old’s body was inconclusive, but subsequent pathology tests of the cremated body and photographic evidence determined that the mother of four died from suffocation.

"Delayed justice is just as important as timely justice," said Quincy Police Chief Rob Copley, who acknowledged his department "dropped the ball" after the earlier autopsy and a coroner’s jury failed to pinpoint how she died. A Quincy detective took a fresh look at the case in 2014.

A special state prosecutor will argue the case, because Curtis Lovelace spent seven years as an assistant state’s attorney in Adams County. The trial is expected to continue into the first week of February.

Curtis Lovelace had told authorities that he found his wife — whom he claimed had flu-like symptoms for several days — dead in bed after dropping off three of their children at school. An investigator later said Lovelace never called 911 or tried to resuscitate his wife of 13 years. He was arrested as he emerged from his law office to go to lunch.

Lovelace was a three-year starting center on Illini teams led by future NFL quarterback Jeff George and won numerous accolades. Former Illini coach John Mackovic called Lovelace "the brains of the whole (team)" in a 2008 interview with the sports website Rivals.com.

The three-sport star and Quincy High School Hall of Fame member returned to his hometown and married Cory, a former high school classmate. His path to public service began with his 1999 school board election; he’d spend 12 years on the board, eight as president. Lovelace also joined the Illinois Army National Guard in 2009, attaining the rank of captain and serving as a trial defense lawyer for soldiers facing disciplinary actions.

His own defense lawyers and several family members did not respond to requests for comment from The Associated Press. It is not clear whether Lovelace, who has remained in jail since his arrest, will testify in his own defense; he’s not listed among the 10 defense witnesses whose names were submitted to the court in late December.

Lovelace would marry twice more after the death of his first wife. Prosecutors had sought to call his second wife, whom he married in May 2008 in Puerto Rico and divorced in September 2013, to testify, but a judge rejected that request last month.

Curtis and Cory Lovelace’s two youngest children, ages 14 and 17, continue to live with Lovelace’s third wife, according to Cory Lovelace’s mother, Martha Didriksen.

She said she will wait for the trial to unfold before conclusively deciding — at least publicly — that her former son-in-law was to blame for her daughter’s death. If he is guilty, Didriksen said she’s "forgiven him … Because I had to."

"Otherwise it eats you alive," she said.

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