Jury sentences anchorwoman murderer to life in prison
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — Anne Pressly’s mother approached defense attorneys moments after jurors spared the life of the Arkansas man convicted of killing her daughter in an attack so brutal that it left the television anchor’s face shattered and unrecognizable.
She leaned in and said softly, “You protected someone who should have never been protected.”
Curtis Lavelle Vance, 29, escaped a death sentence and instead faces life in prison without parole for the rape, robbery and slaying of Pressly. The 26-year-old was an anchor on KATV’s “Daybreak” program and appeared briefly in Oliver Stone’s President George W. Bush biopic “W.”
Pressly was attacked inside her Little Rock home Oct. 20, 2008. She never regained consciousness and died five days later. Prosecutors said Vance told police he went to her neighborhood looking to steal laptop computers.
Vance’s attorneys painted a picture of an emotionally disturbed man with a rocky upbringing by an abusive mother who was addicted to crack cocaine.
Jurors deliberated less than three hours Thursday before recommending that Vance be sentenced to life in prison without parole. They also handed down a life sentence for rape, 20 years for burglary and 10 years for theft.
Vance’s mother testified Thursday that she was abusive, and a doctor said Vance showed signs of paranoia. Pressly’s mother, Patti Cannady, told jurors Wednesday what it was like to lose an only child.
After the verdict was read, Cannady mouthed “It’s OK” to prosecutor Larry Jegley, nodded, and tucked her hands over her heart.
A native of South Carolina, Pressly was a graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.
Vance, who had appeared uncomfortable during much of his mother’s testimony, showed no emotion as the sentence was read.
Jacqueline Vance Burnett had told jurors she was an abusive mother who had a number of crack-fueled run-ins with the law.
Burnett said she worked as a prostitute to earn money for drugs and once snapped after a “date” fell through. She said Vance had been left in charge of a younger brother and that when she returned, the brother was smearing feces on a wall. Burnett said she threw Vance into a brick wall several times until he nearly passed out.
She also told jurors she would buy drugs with money her children received from Social Security after their fathers died and that she had spent time in prison for burglary, forgery and theft.
Burnett said she has since gone through rehab, and she apologized to Vance from the witness stand for throwing him against the wall. He mumbled something, then said “I love you, momma.”
During closing arguments, prosecutor Larry Jegley called Vance’s upbringing “an American tragedy,” but he noted that siblings and other family members have led successful lives. He said Vance’s situation was a result of his own choices.
“Do I like it? No,” Jegley said after the sentence was read. “But they can consider all of them. That’s the law.”
Defense lawyer Katherine Streett had urged jurors — who had convicted Vance a day earlier of capital murder, rape, burglary and theft of property — to have the “courage” to not impose the death penalty.
“The decision you’re about to make may speak as much about you as it does about Curtis Vance,” Streett said. “If mitigation in this case … has any meaning to you in a significant way, you do not have to kill him.”
Vance’s attorneys did not comment after the sentence.
Another brother, B.J. Montgomery of Little Rock, testified that Vance played with him, made sure he did his homework and protected him from their mother. At times Vance would cook for the rest of the family, Montgomery said. “That’s my brother, and I love him,” he said.
Vance’s girlfriend, Sheanika Cooper, said he often spoiled their three children, two girls and a boy.
A psychiatrist had told jurors Vance showed signs of paranoia and compared the man’s brain to a car with bad wiring.
“Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn’t,” said Dr. Shawn Agharkar, who teaches at Morehouse and Emory universities.
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