SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Curtis Lovelace said he stepped out from his law office on Aug. 27, 2014, to run to the bank and grab lunch to take to his wife, Christine.
Outside, he said he saw Quincy Police Department Detective Adam Gibson standing by his car and went to shake the officer's hand.
Instead, Gibson told Lovelace to put his hands on the car and then placed him under arrest.
Lovelace shared his story Thursday afternoon when he took the stand to defend himself during his first-degree murder trial at the Sangamon County Courthouse.
Lovelace said he wasn't told until he was at the Quincy Police Department that he had been indicted in connection with the February 2006 death of his first wife, Cory, and read his Miranda rights. He said that he told police multiple times that he had nothing to do with his first wife's death, hoping they would listen to his version of events and discontinue the case.
Instead, it has become one of the most-followed cases in Adams County history.
“It's been two and a half years,” Lovelace said, breaking down in tears.
He reiterated several times that he had nothing to do with Cory Lovelace's death, saying he believed excessive drinking — a trait he admittedly shared — led to her death at age 38.
But, he said, it's up to the jury to decide.
Lovelace told defense attorney Jon Loevy that he met his future wife, Cory, at a house party while on a break from college in 1986 and that he proposed marriage to her on Christmas Eve in 1988. The couple was married Jan. 26, 1991.
Lovelace testified that Cory Lovelace was a stay-at-home mom for the couple's four young children and that the marriage had “good and bad times.” He said, however, that testimony from neighbors last week that Cory Lovelace yelled every day was an exaggeration.
“Cory was a good mother,” Curtis Lovelace said. “I know she did the best she could.”
Lovelace also said that he knew his first wife was an alcoholic and that her alcohol abuse cast a shadow over the family.
“Alcohol was part of our life,” he said.
As the children got older and involved in more activities, Lovelace said the problem grew.
“She would drink more,” he said, “There was a lot more going on with the kids, and it all fell on her.”
Lovelace said he quit his job at Dot Foods in Mount Sterling and started working part time as an assistant state's attorney for former Adams County State's Attorney Jon Barnard. That allowed Lovelace to start a private law practice, and he also taught classes at Quincy University.
Lovelace said talking with Cory about her drinking became difficult because he also was an alcoholic. He testified that he took his last drink on Dec. 4, 2012.
He also testified that he tried to talk to his wife about her bulimia, but he said she would get “defensive.” He also tried to talk to Cory's mother, Marty Didriksen, about Cory's eating disorder and drinking because he felt like he wasn't getting through to Cory.
Didriksen testified last week that she thought reports of her daughter's bulimia were “over-exaggerated” and that she “never saw her drunk.” That testimony was in opposition to QPD Detective Jeff Baird, who originally investigated Cory Lovelace's death. Baird, now a sergeant, reported that Didriksen told him she had been concerned for the health of her daughter, who she said was a “heavy drinker” and suffered from bulimia.
Feb. 14, 2006
Lovelace also testified about the morning he reported his wife's death, which he said he believes was accelerated by her alcoholism. The courtroom was hushed as he told his version of the events of Feb. 14, 2006, for the first time in public.
Lovelace said he believed Cory had the flu the weekend before her death.
“I remember her spending most of her time in bed that weekend,” he said.
He also testified that Cory Lovelace “was absolutely alive that morning.”
When he saw Cory in bed later that morning, Lovelace said he knew she was dead. He said her eyes were open, and she was very pale.
“I think I shook her,” he said. “I think I yelled at her. I remember thinking, 'I can't believe this is happening.' ”
While he didn't remember the exact positioning of Cory Lovelace's hands, which photographs showed were suspended above her chest, he did agree that the positioning was “unusual.”
Lovelace's first call was to Barnard, his boss.
“I don't know why it didn't occur to me to call 911,” he said. He added that, speaking for himself, he didn't know what to do when someone finds a loved one dead.
He said his first concern was getting then-4-year-old son Larson out of the house. Curtis Lovelace said he took his youngest son to Didriksen's home, immediately north of his home in the 1800 block of Kentucky.
Didriksen testified that Curtis Lovelace dropped Larson off and while walking away, said, “Oh, by the way, Cory is dead.”
Lovelace said he learned through court proceedings that his conversation with Didriksen hurt her.
“I'm very sorry I did that,” he said.
He testified that he wasn't surprised Didriksen was testifying against him “because everything has surprised me.”
Lovelace also said that he tried to stay out of the way of first responders who arrived at the couple's home that morning and that he was cooperative when asked questions.
He also corrected testimony from one of his friends this week who had said Lovelace gave a eulogy at Cory's funeral.
“I wrote it, but I couldn't deliver it,” he said emotionally.
When Loevy asked him, “Did you have anything to do with your wife's death,” his answer was simple: “No.”
Cory was cremated after her funeral service. Lovelace said he and Didriksen talked about the arrangements and agreed she would be cremated. Didriksen testified last week, however, that she was not consulted about the cremation.
He said he accepted what then-Adams County Coroner Gary Hamilton told him, which Lovelace said was that Cory Lovelace had died from liver damage. He said there was never a discussion about a follow-up autopsy.
“I was concerned with how she died, but I didn't have an answer how she died,” Curtis Lovelace said.
The time after Cory's death was lonely, he said, and that was when he began dating Erika Gomez. That led to what Lovelace called a “rebound marriage” in 2008.
Lovelace said that relationship was strained because of how he said Gomez treated his children. Ultimately, he felt the two were moving in different directions, he said, and he decided to file for divorce, which was finalized in fall of 2013.
Lovelace called the divorce “acrimonious.” Gomez alleged Monday in her testimony that Lovelace had emotionally, physically and sexually abused her, but Lovelace denied those claims Thursday.
It was after the divorce, Lovelace said, that he became romantically involved with his third wife, Christine, with whom he once went on a date in high school.
Christine Lovelace testified Wednesday that she knew Curtis Lovelace when they both attended Quincy High School — Curtis Lovelace graduated in 1986, then went to the University of Illinois on a football scholarship — but that her father would not allow her to have a boyfriend at the time and the relationship ended.
Curtis Lovelace's testimony Thursday gave the same timeline, with the two not speaking again until May 2013, five months after Lovelace filed for divorce from Gomez. The testimony disputed Gomez's claim Monday that Christine and Curtis had rekindled their relationship in April 2012.
Curtis and Christine Lovelace were married on Dec. 26, 2013.
Curtis Lovelace said he was grateful for the relationship his current wife has with his sons.
“The boys call her mom, and I think that is great,” he said, adding that it doesn't take away from Cory and that they try to keep Cory Lovelace's memory alive.
He said that while there are no photos of Cory Lovelace in the common areas of house because he believes it would be inappropriate, the boys have photos of her in their rooms.
'A likable guy'
Assistant prosecutor David Robinson began his cross-examination by telling Lovelace that he is a “likable guy.”
“Do people tell you that?” Robinson asked.
“Maybe,” Lovelace responded.
Lovelace told Robinson that he couldn't remember whether Cory Lovelace visited her father — who was dying of cancer — the night before she died. Lovelace agreed that it would have been a bad idea if Cory was suffering from the flu.
Lovelace also agreed that he often drank to excess and was an alcoholic, though he said that in 2006 he probably wouldn't have thought that. The realization of his alcoholism led him to stop drinking.
“I started going to (Alcoholics Anonymous) meetings,” he said.
Robinson asked Lovelace why he wasn't dead if he thought alcoholism contributed to Cory Lovelace's death.
“I'm not dead because I'm alive,” Lovelace replied.
Robinson told Lovelace that his testimony made it sound like he was claiming Gomez, Didriksen, three pathologists and his son, Larson, all were lying in their testimony, but Lovelace said that was the jury's decision to make.
Larson Lovelace testified last week that he was sitting at the top of the stairs in the family's home when Curtis Lovelace returned from taking the three older children to school the morning Cory Lovelace's death was reported.
Curtis Lovelace, however, testified Thursday that he doesn't recall seeing Larson on the stairs, but remembers getting him out of bed. Lovelace said it was possible Larson was sitting on the stairs, but he couldn't recall with certainty.
Lovelace said he believed Baird's report. Lovelace said he saw Cory alive at 8:15 a.m. and found her about 9:05 a.m., when he “just knew” she was dead.
“You're convinced she's dead and you don't even call 911?,” Robinson asked, and Lovelace agreed.
Lovelace also said he doesn't remember Cory being stiff when he shook her. The levels of rigor mortis in Cory Lovelace's body have been points of contention between pathologists testifying for both sides in the trial.
Lovelace testified that he no longer sees his daughter, Lyndsay. He said a $20,000 memorial fund set up after Cory Lovelace's death was used to pay for expenses, including credit card debt.
Didriksen testified that she asked for money on behalf of Lyndsay — who moved into her grandmother's home while a high school student because she did not get along with Gomez — but that Curtis Lovelace told her the money was gone.
Lovelace said that he borrowed money and gave his daughter two checks for $1,000 in 2012 and 2013.
He also testified that while working for the state's attorney's office, he mostly dealt with civil matters and handled few criminal cases, limiting his knowledge of criminal investigations. He reiterated that he accepted Cory's death was related to liver problems and that he had trusted Hamilton to do whatever was needed.
Thursday also brought testimony from Lovelace's other sons, Logan and Lincoln, who both serve in the U.S. Army.
Logan Lovelace, 19, was 8 when his mother died. He said he clearly remembers Cory sitting on the staircase the day she was reported dead. He said he asked his mother if he could stay home and help take care of her, but that she said no.
A few hours later, he said, his father came to school to tell him that Cory Lovelace was dead.
“I've never seen him cry like that,” Logan Lovelace said.
He testified that when he was interviewed by Gibson — who reopened the investigation into Cory Lovelace's death — he had no idea his father had been arrested earlier that day. He said he told Baird the truth in 2006 about seeing his mother alive on the morning of Feb. 14, 2006.
Lincoln Lovelace, 18, was 7 when Cory Lovelace died. He reiterated that there is no doubt he saw his mother alive that morning.
He recalled his father coming to his school to break the news of Cory's death.
“My dad was in tears,” Lincoln Lovelace said. He said he will never forget being told his mother had died when he had just seen her alive “a few hours earlier.”