SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Jon Loevy said he knew Curtis Lovelace was innocent after meeting the former Adams County assistant state's attorney for the first time a year ago in the Hancock County Jail.
“After spending an hour with him I said, 'This guy is being falsely accused,' ” Loevy said.
The attorney's instincts were confirmed Friday when a Sangamon County jury needed a little more than two hours to find Lovelace not guilty of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his first wife, Cory, in February 2006.
The trial was the second for Lovelace, who prosecutors alleged suffocated his wife with a pillow. An Adams County jury was unable to reach a verdict after two days of deliberation in February 2016.
This was the first murder trial for Loevy, who normally handles civil litigation cases.
“It's a different emotion, I tell you,” he said Friday afternoon “You can win them or lose them when it's a lawsuit, but those two hours while we were waiting to see what this jury was going to do to Curt ... I think I need to pick a different profession.”
The defense team of Loevy and Tara Thompson was provided through the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, which seeks to overturn sentences of those wrongly accused.
Loevy, who delivered an often-blistering 110-minute closing argument Friday, said the decision by Curtis Lovelace to take the witness stand a day earlier strengthened the case, even thought he believed the defense already had “won the trial.”
“Curt wanted to tell his community, you and everyone else, that he did not kill his wife,” Loevy said.
Curtis Lovelace, now 48, testified that Cory Lovelace was alive when he left at 8:15 a.m. to take three of their children to school on Feb. 14, 2006. He said he discovered her lifeless body when he walked into their bedroom about 9 a.m.
Loevy said that the state's entire case was based on “pure speculation.” He called Quincy police Detective Adam Gibson a “rookie detective” who failed to acknowledge statements from three Lovelace children that their mother was alive hours after prosecutors claim she had been murdered.
Loevy also said Gibson continued to “doctor shop” the case until he found forensic pathologist Dr. Jane Turner to agree with his conclusion that Cory Lovelace's death was caused by suffocation.
Gibson testified Tuesday that he started looking into the case after coming across it while reviewing old case files.
Loevy said a “smoking gun” for the defense was an email from prosecution witness Dr. Scott Denton. In the email, Denton said that unless Dr. Jessica Bowman — who performed the autopsy on Cory Lovelace — amended her report from “undetermined,” reasonable doubt would exist in the case.
Loevy pointed to the testimony of Dr. Shaku Teas and Dr. William Oliver, who both said Cory Lovelace died from fatty liver related to chronic alcoholism.
Teas and Oliver testified this week that Cory Lovelace's body would have shown more trauma if she had been suffocated, and that signs of a struggle would have been prevalent.
Both forensic pathologists also believed the statements provided by three of the Lovelace children to Quincy police Detective Jeff Baird, who handled the initial death investigation.
The defense also blasted allegations made by Curtis Lovelace's second wife, Erika Gomez, that her husband had been violent with her. Loevy reminded jurors that Maj. Lary Fuler of the Army and National Guard found Gomez's claims not credible after an investigation.
Lovelace joined the Illinois Army National Guard in 2010. Gomez had reported a May 2012 incident to the National Guard in May 2013, and Fuler testified Gomez said she wasn't injured in the incident.
Special prosecutor Ed Parkinson argued that Lovelace had gotten away with murder for eight years.
“Cory is dead,” Parkinson said during a rebuttal to the defense's closing argument. “She didn't deserve to die this young. She deserved lots of tomorrows.”
During closing arguments, prosecutors said jurors should believe the testimony of Denton, Dr. Werner Spitz and Dr. Jane Turner, all of whom said Cory Lovelace died of suffocation.
All believed Cory Lovelace had died several hours earlier and that the placement of her arms showed advanced rigor mortis, although the defense argued her arms were moved by first responders.
“That's the science,” assistant prosecutor David Robinson said during closing arguments. “Who do you trust? Who do you believe? Spitz, Denton and Turner, or Shaku Teas and Oliver?”
Robinson contended that while a good detective, Baird thought Curtis Lovelace was a “pretty likeable guy” and gave him “professional deference” in the investigation.
Parkinson said while he was “disappointed” with the verdict, he respected the jury's decision and complimented jurors for their attentiveness throughout the two-week trial.
He also said the change in venue did not make a difference.
“I was comfortable in Adams County as well as Sangamon,” Parkinson said.