SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The first day of testimony in the Curtis Lovelace murder trial opened with a bombshell claim from Lovelace's defense team that some new “smoking gun” evidence has turned up within the past 10 days.
Jon Loevy, an attorney with the Exoneration Project representing Lovelace, told the jury in his opening statement Wednesday that a batch of emails have been obtained that weren't available during Lovelace's first trial a year ago.
Loevy said these emails were exchanged between Quincy police Detective Adam Gibson and more than a half-dozen medical professionals he had contacted to ask their opinion on whether they thought Cory Lovelace might have been suffocated to death with a pillow on the morning of Feb. 14, 2006.
“He tried to prove a crime that did not happen,” Loevy said.
Loevy said the first seven people Gibson had contacted about seven years after Cory Lovelace's death told Gibson there was no apparent evidence of foul play. But on his eighth try, Loevy said, Gibson found a pathologist willing to say that a murder might have occurred.
Armed with that information, Loevy said, Gibson sought a grand jury indictment of Lovelace in 2014 accusing him of smothering Cory Lovelace while she was in their bed on Valentine's Day.
Loevy claimed all of these email exchanges — including those with the pathologists who felt a crime had not been committed — had never been submitted as potential evidence in the Lovelace trial until now.
Loevy claimed Gibson tried to delete the emails but copies were obtained through a Freedom of Information request.
Loevy referred to these as “smoking gun emails” that will show a preponderance of medical officials felt no crime was involved in Cory Lovelace's death.
Loevy said the evidence will show she died of acute liver disease caused by excessive drinking and bulimia.
“Cory had damaged her body beyond repair,” he said.
The prosecution, on the other hand, contends the evidence will show Lovelace did indeed kill his wife, whose body was found in bed in a state of advanced rigor mortis.
David Robinson, who is assisting special prosecutor Ed Parkinson in the case, said during his opening statement that evidence from a “mosaic” of different sources point to wrongdoing being involved.
“You know what it's going to say? Murder,” Robinson told the six-man, six-woman jury.
Robinson said the prosecution will be calling in several world-renowned pathologists who will testify that Cory Lovelace had been suffocated. He said the prosecution also will have some circumstantial evidence to support the notion that Curtis Lovelace murdered his wife.
The prosecution intends to point to the relationship between Curtis Lovelace and his second wife, Erika Gomez, who was a student of Lovelace's at the time Cory Lovelace was found dead.
Robinson said the defense will try to “misdirect” them by showing that Lovelace was a “pillar of the community” known for his work as an assistant state's attorney, longtime Quincy School Board member and all-America football star for the University of Illinois.
“That's a facade,” Robinson told the jurors. “You have to use your common sense.”
Robinson said the prosecution would present evidence showing “the tumultuous and rocky relationship that he and Cory had.”
Robinson also objected to Loevy's assertion that Gibson may have committed perjury and was involved in “kidnapping” the Lovelace children to question them after Lovelace was arrested on suspicion of murder.
“Both of those are untrue,” Robinson said.
After both sides gave their opening statements, the prosecution called seven witnesses.
The first out of the gate was Jon Barnard, former Adams County state's attorney.
Barnard was Lovelace's boss at the time Cory Lovelace died.
Barnard told the court that he received a telephone call from Lovelace on the morning of Feb. 14, 2006. He said Lovelace told him: “Cory is dead.”
“I said, 'Where is she?'” Barnard testified. “He said she was in bed.”
Barnard asked whether Lovelace had called for an ambulance. Lovelace said he had not. So Barnard told Lovelace to stay put, and Barnard called 911.
Under questioning from Loevy, Barnard said Lovelace had “a mild level of disturbance” in his voice that reflected some emotion.
One of the first to arrive on the scene was Doug VanderMaiden, a Quincy police officer. VanderMaiden testified Wednesday that he went upstairs to the couple's bedroom with some Quincy firefighters and saw Cory Lovelace's body on the bed. He said her forearms appeared to be raised.
“It was obvious she was deceased,” VanderMaiden said.
VanderMaiden said Lovelace told him Cory had been sick the past few days. Lovelace also told him he had dropped off their children at school that morning and came back home about 8:35 a.m. He worked on a computer for a while before going upstairs to take a shower. That's when he noticed his wife was apparently deceased. Lovelace said he shook Cory but got no response.
Cole Miller, a Quincy firefighter and EMT, also testified about seeing Cory Lovelace in her bedroom.
“Her hands were up by her shoulders,” Miller said.
William Ballard, a paramedic, said he recalled Cory's arms and hands were “drawn up against her chest” when he arrived. Ballard said he pulled on her arms while applying electronic sensors to her torso to check for signs of life. Ballard said a certain level of stiffness had set in.
“It felt maybe a little bit in her arms,” he said.
The level of rigor mortis became a point of contention in an exchange between Loevy and Adams County Coroner Jim Keller, who was a deputy coroner at the time of Cory Lovelace's death.
“The body was in a full state of rigor mortis,” Keller said Wednesday.
However, Loevy called into questions some discrepancies that surfaced regarding the level of rigor mortis displayed in the flexibility of Cory Lovelace's body.
“I stand by what I saw,” Keller said.
Parkinson tried to demonstrate that the Lovelace home had been the site of considerable “yelling and screaming and arguing” over the years by calling forward two next-door neighbors, Lori and Steve Miles, who testified separately.
Lori Miles said she heard arguing, yelling or screaming “on a daily basis” coming from the Lovelace home during the six years they lived next door.
On one occasion, Miles said, she called the police after she heard the Lovelaces' daughter, Lyndsay, pounding on the outside door trying to get back in after she had been kicked out of the house on a cold night in February 2005. Lyndsay was about 11 years old at the time.
After a police officer arrived and visited the Lovelace home, Steve Miles said Curtis Lovelace came over to their house and angrily demanded to know why the police had been called. Lovelace was “clearly intoxicated,” Steve Miles said.
Lori Miles said she stepped between the two men to prevent any kind of fight from breaking out.
Loevy objected to many of the prosecution's questions about the level of yelling and arguing that occurred at the Lovelace home over the years.
“The whole line of inquiry is irrelevant,” he told the court.
In his opening statement, Loevy acknowledged that Curtis and Cory Lovelace had some issues.
“Was it a perfect family? No,” he told the jurors. “But they had love in that family.”
Loevy contends that Cory Lovelace's death was related to liver damage caused by the fact she was “a big-time drinker” who also suffered from bulimia and stopped seeing doctors.
“She was at great risk of an early death,” he said. “There is no evidence she was suffocated.”
Wednesday's trial began with an announcement by Judge Bob Hardwick that one of the original jurors was found to be disqualified. So one of the three alternates — a man — took the seat vacated by a woman. That's how the jury's makeup went from a seven-woman, five-man panel to one that is split equally along gender lines.
Last year, a 10-man, two-woman jury couldn't reach agreement during Lovelace's first trial after two days of deliberations in Adams County Circuit Court. So Hardwick ordered a new trial. He also agreed to move the second trial to Springfield to help assure getting an unbiased jury.