Ex-Illinois star Curtis Lovelace on trial for allegedly killing wife

A star football player at the University of Illinois, Curtis Lovelace returned to his western Illinois hometown with a law degree. Later, he served 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, with five groups of prospective jurors questioned by Judge Bob Hardwick, special prosecutor Ed Parkinson and Lovelace's defense team of James Elmore and Jeff Page.

Lovelace, 47, has pleaded not guilty to the murder 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 Cory died. A Quincy detective took a fresh look at the case in 2014.

Parkinson is arguing the case because Curtis Lovelace spent seven years as an assistant state's attorney in Adams County.

On Monday, a total of 22 people were called into the jury box. Seven were excused from the pool, including one who was married to a potential witness and one who had a medical issue.

"About what I expected: slow," Parkinson said in describing the day.

The trial is expected to continue into the first week of February.

Curtis Lovelace had told authorities that he found his wife -- who he claimed had flu-like symptoms for several days -- dead in bed after he dropped three of their children off 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. He 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 high school classmate. His path to public service began with his 1999 school board election. He spent 12 years on the board and eight as president. Lovelace also joined the Illinois Army National Guard in 2009. He attained the rank of captain and served 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 is not listed among the 10 defense witnesses whose names were submitted to the court in late December.

Lovelace married 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.

Didriksen 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 has "forgiven him ... because I had to."

"Otherwise, it eats you alive," she said.