SPRINGFIELD, Ill. -- Curtis Lovelace stood with his family and legal defense team outside the Sangamon County Courthouse late Friday afternoon while a group of supporters took photos -- the first family portraits with him as a free man in more than 30 months.
An hour earlier, a jury of seven women and five men found Lovelace not guilty of first-degree murder in connection with the death of his first wife, Cory, on Feb. 14, 2006.
The 48-year-old Lovelace became visibly emotional after the verdict was read by the court clerk, and screams of joy could be heard from the gallery packed with family and friends. He immediately turned to embrace his family when court was adjourned.
The jury needed only a little more than two hours of deliberation after seven days of testimony and closing arguments on Friday. Jurors accomplished what an Adams County panel could not in February 2016, when Judge Bob Hardwick declared a mistrial after that jury was deadlocked following 16 hours of deliberations over two days.
Lovelace -- holding the hand of his current wife, Christine, and flanked by sons Logan, Lincoln and Larson -- described the feeling of relief he experienced when the verdict was read.
"We've been praying for quite some time, and even when it seemed like things were going slow, those prayers were answered," Curtis Lovelace said. "God has a plan and we trusted in that, and we would pray God would send us a message."
The former Adams County assistant state's attorney said the 30 months since his arrest have been difficult.
"It's hard to describe what's it like to go out and have someone slap the cuffs on you and accuse you of such a horrible crime, and then be in jail for almost two years," he said. "I think the hardest part was just not knowing what the evidence was, not understanding why this was even brought forward."
Curtis Lovelace lauded his defense team of Jon Loevy and Tara Thompson from the University of Chicago's Exoneration Project, as well as the support of private investigator Bill Clutter, a founding member of Investigating Innocence, and many others.
"It was those efforts that got us here today," he said.
Christine Lovelace thanked supporters for the comfort they provided the family, and those who accompanied her on court dates.
"So many of these folks are family to us," she said. "I don't know where we would be without all of them. Some people call them our entourage or a fan club. That's not what it is. They are absolutely our family."
Describing himself as an officer of the court, Curtis Lovelace reiterated his faith in the justice system.
"I think one of the things that we learned through this is the system is not perfect," he said. "It never was, and it never will be. But that's not because of the system. There is nothing inherent about a system. It's the people in it.
"Unfortunately, sometimes there are bad people driving the system, and that's when you get bad results. But there are plenty of good people, too."
Curtis Lovelace said he and his wife have not decided what they will do in the future, or whether he will remain in the legal field. He also declined to say whether they will pursue litigation.
"Obviously, this has been a life-changing event for our whole family, so I think we're going to try and relax a little bit and come together as a family ... and figure it out," Lovelace said. "We have some ideas, but none we can really share yet."
Curtis Lovelace was held in the Hancock County Jail from his arrest on Aug. 27, 2014, until supporters posted $350,000 bond on June 6, 2016. He had been on home confinement since, allowed only trips to court, church and to have his GPS monitor checked.
Looking at his wife, Lovelace joked that he liked the time he spent with her while on home confinement, but said he was looking forward to visiting Lincoln and Logan, who both are serving in the Army outside Illinois.
"I'm looking forward to getting with family not only here, but elsewhere," Curtis Lovelace said.
Christine Lovelace chimed in: "We have a granddaughter that we still have to meet."