BLOOMINGTON — Curtis Lovelace served as a county prosecutor for more than seven years before he was arrested for a murder he did not commit.
On Friday, Lovelace and his wife, Christine, attended a rally outside the McLean County Museum of History to support others whose claims of innocence are still moving through the court system.
A small group stood in a chilly rain that turned to snow for the event sponsored by Does Innocence Matter? The group supports wrongfully convicted individuals who serve an average of 13 years in prison before their release.
Lovelace was acquitted in a second trial in 2017 of killing his first wife. A former prosecutor from Adams County, Lovelace was charged with murder in August 2014.
The Lovelaces now live in Champaign, where he works as a lawyer. The couple founded The Justice Initiative, a group that assists individuals challenging their convictions.
Lovelace said he and his wife attend rallies to support exonerees, a group he was unfamiliar with "until we were thrust into the world of wrongful prosecution.”
The experience has given Lovelace a new perspective in his work assisting defendants with their innocence claims.
“I know I could be that person,” Lovelace said in an interview with The Pantagraph.
Tammy Alexander, one of the event's organizer and a supporter of Jamie Snow's efforts to reverse his 1999 McLean County murder conviction, said more public awareness is needed of wrongful convictions.
McLean County has seven cases "begging for conviction review," said Alexander.
Snow's lawyers with the University of Chicago's Innocence Project are seeking DNA testing of evidence in his case involving the 1991 death of a Bloomington gas station attendant during an robbery. The defense has argued that witnesses at Snow's trial were unreliable and received incentives from the state for their testimony.
Lawyers for two other defendants serving time for murder in McLean County cases continue to examine evidence that could lead to exonerations.
Since his daughter's death in 1998, Bart McNeil has claimed innocence of the child's death. The 4-year-old was found by McNeil in her bed after an overnight stay at his Bloomington apartment.
The Exoneration Project recently signed on to assist the Springfield-based Innocence Project on McNeil's case.
McNeil’s lawyer, John Hanlon, told the audience the Innocence Project receives 3,000 applications for assistance a year. The group is working on 40 cases.
Hanlon said he is convinced of McNeil’s innocence.
“Someday we’re going to walk Bart out (of custody) because he’s innocent,” said Hanlon.
Also pending is the post-conviction effort on behalf of Don Whalen, who was found guilty of killing his father in a downtown Bloomington bar. A judge granted Whalen's request last year for an additional review of a bloody palm print found on evidence at the scene of the 1991 crime.