by Max Brantley
CONVICTED: Curtis Vance led from court after verdict.
The Pulaski Circuit Court jury, which got the case at 12:45 p.m., returned shortly after 3 p.m. with the required unanimous verdicts on all counts: Capital murder, rape, theft of property and residential burglary.
The jury will reconvene Thursday morning to continue hearing arguments for and against the death penalty for Vance on the murder conviction. The only alternate sentence is life withhout parole.
Pressly's badly beaten body was found in her Heights home early Oct. 20. 2008. She died several days later of the injuries, never having recovered consciousness. Police were led to arrest Vance, of Marianna, after DNA testing of evidence found in Pressly's home matched DNA evidence gathered in a Marianna rape case. Marianna police identified Vance as a potential suspect in that rape and Little Rock police detectives obtained a DNA sample from him that matched crime scene evidence. Over a period of several months, Vance gave a series of statements to police, often conflicting, but in several he admitted the crime.
During the penalty phase, the defense will renew its arguments that Vance's mental capacity and his difficult family situation should mitigate factors arguing for the death penalty.
David Koon reports that there was a lot of huggng and crying among Pressly's friends after the verdict.
During deliberations, Judge Chris Piazza had the jury in to answer questions about Vance's statements. Twitter accounts say the judge told them that transcripts of Vance's statements weren't admissable, but the recordings could be replayed for them.
Going into the courtroom before closing arguments this morning, Vance told Fox 16's David Goins, "I feel pretty good."
Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson closed for the state with an almost cinematic narrativeof Curtis Vance’s nighttime prowl through the Heights looking for homes to burgle. He called Vance a scavenger who became a predator.
Said Johnson of the victim: “She could have been any one of us who was doing everything right … the Anne Presslys of the word ought to be safe. But when Curtis Vance is in the neighborhood and your’re a woman and you’re alone, you’re alone except for Curtis Vance.”
Johnson emphasized the strength of DNA evidence and endeavored to explain away what the defense had depicted as inconsistencies, particularly one piece of evidence that could only be traced to Vance paternal heritage. Johnson noted that Vance’s brother, to whose home Vance went the night of the crime, had a different father.
Defense attorney Teri Chambers closed for Vance. “I’m not going to stand up here and insult your intelligence by telling you Curtis Vance is not connected to this evfidence,” she began.
But she said most of the evidence was circumstantial. She said only one hair was connected to Vance by a scientific certainty and she noted that the hair wasn’t in an evidence envelope – an issue addressed earlier by Johnson who said it had mostly been consumed during the course of DNA testing.
“Curtis is obviously truth impaired,” Chambers said. “I cannot keep up with the statements he made to police …. You can’t base your decision on what comes out of his mouth.”
She said prosecutors want the jury to believe the statements in which Vance implicated himself and disbelieve the others. She talked extensively about absence of evidence in Vance’s car connecting it to the crime. She said, too, that the car was filthy. Photos indicate it couldn’t have been cleaned to remove traces of blood, she suggested.
She also raised the specter of others’ involvement in the crime.
The state owes it to Pressly’s family to investigate to be sure no one else was involved, Chambers said.
Prosecutor John Johnson, in a brief rebuttal, said the defense hadn't offered much by way of a defense and he added, "Apparently the defense is not interested in preventing a defense in this case with honesty and integrity." That brought an angry defense objection. The judge told the jury that closing arguments were not to be taken as evidence. Johnson had emphasized that the defense's emphasis on an empty evidence envelope that once contained a hair said to be Vance's was just "trickery."
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