Arguing the death penalty for Vance | Arkansas Blog

Arguing the death penalty for Vance





EMOTIONAL: Anne Pressly's mother, Patti Cannady, is comforted following her testimony in penalty phase of the trial of her daughter's killer. Brian Chilson photo.

Court ended Wednesday without a decision on whether Curtis Lavelle Vance will spend the rest of his life in prison or die for the 2008 beating death of KATV anchor Anne Pressly. Vance was found guilty earlier today of capital murder, rape, theft of property and residential burglary.

After a short break following the verdict, jurors came back to begin hearing the prosecution's case for why Vance should die for the crime -- called aggravating circumstances -- and the defense's argument of why his life should be spared -- called mitigating circumstances. Now that he has been convicted of capital murder, life in prison without parole or death are the only two punishments the jury is allowed to consider.

As outlined during jury instructions, there are, under current law, 10 aggravating circumstances which may weigh in whether a defendant convicted of capital murder receives death.  During his opening statement, Chief Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson said the state believed the testimony already heard and witnesses they would put on would demonstrate Vance had committed four of these aggravating circumstances: that Vance had previously committed another felony of force or violence in the rape of the Marianna biology teacher; that Vance committed his crime for the purpose of killing a witness; that Vance killed for pecuniary gain (that is, for the purpose of financial enrichment); and that the murder Vance committed was especially brutal.

In finishing his brief opening statement, Johnson asked the jury to find that "Curtis Vance has forfeited his right to walk among us. That he had his chance, and gave that up."

Defense attorney Katherine Streett next gave her brief opening statement, and asked the jury to not get impatient with the testimony from witnesses they planned to call. Those witnesses, she said, would tell Vance's story, ad show how he came to be in the courtroom.

First for the prosecution was the Marianna biology teacher whose rape led to a DNA profile match to Curtis Vance, and eventually a break in the Pressly case. Asked by John Johnson to describe the force with which her attacker subdued and raped her, she said her attacker was much taller than her, and carried her to a couch before the rape. The pain of being sodomized, she said, was unlike anything she could ever describe. Though she was calm and collected during the trial, this time she broke down at least once on the stand and had to take a moment before continuing. She said that she spent the whole rape thinking that her attacker would kill her.  

After two male friends of Anne Pressly testified about their loss, the prosecution called Pressly's mother, Patti Cannady (pictured after leaving the courtroom following this testimony) to the stand. Cannady was already crying by the time she got into the courtroom, and cried almost constantly throughout her testimony. After saying that part of her died when her only daughter was killed, Cannady said: "All I'm trying to do is to stay strong enough that I can get to the other side of the cross and see her in heaven."

Cannady related to the jury how she often found her husband Guy laying on the floor unable to get up in the days after Pressly's death, and said that sometimes she still thinks to telephone her daughter or cover her on cold nights before realizing that she is dead. After her only child was killed, Cannady said, she destroyed most of her own childhood photographs because she knows she'll never have anyone to pass them on to.

"I'll never get to see her walk down the aisle," Cannady said. "I'll never have grandchildren. That's why I tore up the pictures. There's no one. There's no one."

In closing, Cannady read a letter from a 7-year-old Anne, which said in part that her mother "helps me when I'm sick. I will love her as long as I live."  After reading the rest of the letter, Cannady said she would remember the members of the jury for the rest of her life because they had stood up for truth and justice.

Though the defense hadn't cross-examined any of the others brought forward during the penalty phase by the prosecution, Teri Chambers rose and asked Patti Cannady about whether she had supported Anne spiritually and emotionally during her childhood. Cannady agreed that she had. Once Chambers released the witness, John Johnson stood up and asked Patti Cannady how she would feel if her words were used to help "that man" -- then pointed at Curtis Vance. Cannady said it would make her feel horrible. 

For their first witness, the defense called Curtis Vance's aunt, who said that Vance's mother Jackie was a teenage mother who was often in trouble with drugs, alcohol and the police. She said that Curtis and his brothers were often left in the care of their grandmother who would "throw whatever was closest" when the children misbehaved.

Next up was Charles Thompson, an attorney for the Arkansas Department of Human Services. Thompson noted to Judge Piazza that the DHS had filed a motion that his testimony be kept secret. Piazza denied that motion. Thompson then read from several documents from the DHS archives outlining social workers' contact with the Vance family going back to 1989. These documents often cited instances in which Curtis and his brothers were allegedly being neglected by their mother, who told case workers that she was hooked on crack cocaine. In one instance, Curtis Vance's four-year-old brother was found wandering beside a busy highway and returned to the home by DHS workers. In another, Vance's mother left Curtis and his brothers, then all under 10, alone for most of the day in their locked apartment. Vance's mother eventually surrendered custody of her children to their grandmother.

Testimony from defense witnesses continues at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.

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