Jury convicts Ark. man in death of TV anchorwoman

Jury convicts Ark. man in death of TV anchorwoman
Curtis Lavelle Vance, arrives Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2009 at the Little Rock, Ark., Pulaski County Courthouse for his capital murder trial. (AP Photo/Mike Wintroath)
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - A man was convicted of capital murder Wednesday for beating an Arkansas TV anchorwoman so brutally that her face was shattered and she never regained consciousness before dying five days later.

Curtis Lavelle Vance could face the death penalty for the assault on Anne Pressly at her Little Rock bungalow. The same jury that convicted him reconvened to hear testimony about whether he should be put to death or imprisoned without the possibility of parole.

After the verdict, Pressly's mother, Patti Cannady, raised a hand and said, "Praise God. Praise God." She burst into sobs.

Vance, 29, of Marianna, was also convicted of residential burglary along with rape and theft of property in the Oct. 20, 2008, attack. Once jurors delivered the guilty verdict, Vance gestured toward the empty jury box, pointed to his eyes and ears and shook his head.

The weekend before she was attacked, Pressly, a 26-year-old local celebrity, had been celebrating her bit part in the President Bush biopic "W." Due on KATV's "Daybreak" program at 5 a.m. that Monday morning, she never answered more than 40 wake-up calls made by her parents.

In various confessions made to police, Vance said he went to Pressly's neighborhood looking to steal laptop computers. After entering her home through a Dutch door she left open for her dogs, authorities said, Vance found the computer he sought - and Pressly.

Cannady, who was in town, told jurors that she drove to Pressly's house and found her battered and lying in a fetal position on her bed.

"Anne, Momma's here. Momma's here," Cannady called to her daughter, according to her testimony. Pressly reached weakly with her right arm, moaning.

After calling for an ambulance, Cannady closed her eyes, lifted her head and prayed. When she opened her eyes, she saw blood on the ceiling.

"That's how horrific ... her attack was. She was beyond recognition," Cannady told jurors.

An emergency room doctor at St. Vincent Infirmary believed Pressly, a blonde, had red hair because there was so much blood. Dr. Therese McBride testified that the front of Pressly's skull and jaw were beaten so severely that she did not appear human.

Pressly slipped into a coma after the attack and died five days later without regaining consciousness.

KATV, where Pressly worked, had raised $50,000 for a reward fund; the city's police department will decide how it is distributed. The station also plans to raise money to fund a broadcast school scholarship in Pressly's name.

"The good thing is, Anne will never be forgotten. This guy will be forgotten," local radio host David Bazzel said after the verdict was read.

A native of Greenville, S.C., Pressly was a graduate of Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn. In the Oliver Stone movie "W," she appeared briefly as a conservative commentator who speaks favorably of Bush's "Mission Accomplished" event on an aircraft carrier after the start of the Iraq War.

A DNA expert testified that a single hair found in Pressly's bedroom placed Vance at the scene. Police said the genetic evidence matched that from a rape in Vance's hometown half a year earlier.

Marianna police said Vance had been seen loitering near homes that had recently been burglarized and Little Rock police arranged an interview. Vance volunteered a swab from the inside of his cheek for DNA testing, police said, and lab results linked the crimes. Vance faces a separate rape charge in Marianna, to which he has pleaded not guilty.

Vance's legal team argued both that their client was innocent - "wrongfully accused of a homicide he did not commit," attorney Lott Rolfe said - and that the DNA evidence and taped interviews were illegally obtained. At a pretrial hearing, Vance said "police trickery" confused him to the point that he chose to not have lawyers attend his interviews with detectives.

In the penalty phase, Cannady said that after the death of her only child she ripped up many family photos because she didn't have anyone to give them to.

"Oh, Lord Jesus, how I wish it were me and not Anne," Cannady said.

A lawyer for the state Department of Human Services read from agency documents that revealed a troubled youth for Vance. One of his aunts also testified that Vance's mother had been addicted to crack and lived for a time in a Memphis, Tenn., homeless shelter after asking her mother to raise her children.

As Vance left the courthouse, family members shouted "Love ya, Lavelle!" and he said "Love you!"

Then he shouted, "It's a corrupted system!"

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Associated Press Writer Andrew DeMillo contributed to this report.