Life without parole for Pressly killer | Arkansas Blog

Life without parole for Pressly killer

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AFTER SENTENCE: Curtis Vance leaves court. Brian Chilson photo

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VICTIM'S MOTHER: Patti Cannady following sentencing. Brian Chilson photo

FINAL WRAP UP: Anne Pressly's stepfather Guy Cannady stood on the steps of Robinson Auditorium tonight with his wife Patti, Prosecutor Larry Jegley, Deputy Prosecutor John Johnson, and members of the Little Rock Police Department's Homicide Unit and praised prosecutors and police, along with the jury that had earlier found that Curtis Lavelle Vance should spend life in prison without the possibility of parole for raping and fatally beating \KATV anchor Pressly in October 2008. As the group walked up, Patti Cannady said "No smiles. No smiles."

"There really aren't any winners tonight," Guy Cannady told assembled reporters. "Nothing that's been done here tonight will bring Anne back." Cannady said that Vance's lawyers provided him with an agressive defense, but ultimately the defense's evidence came up lacking and Vance was found guilty.

"We placed our faith and trust in these twelve jurors, and tonight they have come back with a sentence -- a sentence which they believe, and we share with them, was the harshest possible sentence for this gentleman going forward. He will now spend the rest of his natural life in a 6-by-9 cell with nothing to think about but what he has done."

Asked if he was disappointed that Vance was not given the death penalty, Cannady said no.

Prosecutor Jegley next stepped to the microphone. He said the jury system in America is the greatest in the world. He noted that the jury gave Vance the maximum penalty for all counts except for the death penalty for capital murder.  

When the Arkansas Times asked Jegley to explain why the jury had found that the aggravating circumstances in Vance's crime outweighed the mitigating circumstances and yet still gave Vance life without parole, Jegley said that after a capital murder conviction, jurors are allowed the option of giving life without parole over death even if they believe the aggravating circumstances outweigh the mitigating circumstances.  "That's their province," Jegley said. "I don't question it. I don't have any problem at all. I suspect it was the family members. They [the jury] wanted to, I think, minimize some of the collateral damage this man has caused."

Coverage from earlier in the day:

The jury announced its sentencing about 8:40 p.m. The jury reported that it had found the state had proved two aggravating circumstances --  cruelty in the crime and a previous violent crime -- but it also found mitigating circumstances, for example, he had a bad childhood. None of the jury found that brain damage was a mitigating circumstance. In addition to the life sentence for murder, the jury gave him 20 years and a $15,000 fine for burglary; 10 years and a $10,000 fine for theft; and a life sentence for rape. Judge Chris Piazza said the sentences should be served consecutively. He still faces a rape charge in Marianna.

Vance reacted quietly to the verdict. His mother told him afterward that she loved him.

The jury began considering a death penalty for Curtis Vance at 5:43 p.m. During the three hours of deliberation, it asked the judge if it could consider the rape of a Marianna school teacher, mentioned by the prosecution as a reason for the death penalty, though Vance has only been charged, not convicted of the crime. The judge said this was a delicate point, didn't give a definitive answer and referred the jury back to its instructions.

Defense testimony was completed shortly before 4 p.m.  Then came arguments for and against the death penalty from the prosecutor and defense. Justice demanded death for Vance, Jegley argued. Defense lawyer Katherine Streett pleaded for the jury to consider the damage done to Vance as an abused child of a crack addict.

Final witnesses for Vance included his girlfriend, mother of their three children, and state workers who'd tried to intervene to help Vance's troubled family.

Also, forensic psychologist Shawn Agharkar, a professor at Morehouse College in Atlanta, said that Vance was brain damaged and paranoid.

Agharkar, the third witness to testify for the defense in the penalty phase of the trial that started Wedesday afternoon, said Vance's impairment might not always be noticeable, comparing him to a "vehicle that looks good but has a wiring problem" and may have trouble starting or running.

Agharkar said his review of the battery of tests given Vance earlier in the year indicated he had frontal lobe damage and was incapable of considering options. He said testing records from his school record indicated he was working at a third or fourth grade level in the eighth grade. He also noted that there is a history of mental illness in Vance's family: His mother has attempted suicide several times and displayed psychotic behavior.

Later, the jury heard from Jacqueline Vance, Curtis Vance's mother.  The defense used her testimony to try to establish a patten of abuse and neglect, including one incident where she beat Vance so badly as a child that he had to go to the hospital. 

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Curtis Vance's mother ran from the courtroom in tears during her testimony in the penalty phase of the trial this morning. She is seen here collecting herself before returning to the courtroom.

The defense's line of questioning followed Jacqueline Vance from the time she was a child up through the present. Vance talked about how she became a teenage mother and about discipline problems she had as an elementary school student.  Vance said she was kicked out of school when she was in 6th grade for stabbing another student in the eye with a pencil. She then went to an academy for girls with behavioral problems. Once she figured out that pregnancy would result in expulsion, she intentionally became pregnant at the age 15.  That child was Curtis Vance.

Problems with drugs and alcohol followed her throughout her teenage years and eventually Vance became addicted to crack.  Very addicted, she said. She said when she was living in Chicago she would sell herself for money to buy crack. She would often leave Curtis and his younger brother, Myron, unattended.  One night, Vance said she was unable to find "a trick" and walked back to the house frustrated.  Myron had defecated on himself and smeared it on the wall.  She blamed Curtis, whom she called Lavelle, for it.

“I jumped on Lavelle," she said, "I picked him up and threw him into the wall constantly until he fell out.” Vance lost consciousness and was hospitalized.  Jacqueline Vance told him to tell hospital and police officials that he had fallen off a bunk bed. After that he began having problems in school and became rebellious, she said. 

In other defense testimony after a lunch break, more DHS witnesses from Fort Smith and Marianna testified about cases of abuse in the Vance family. School officials talked about his education record.

A parenting educator from Fort Smith who’d worked on the DHS team that tried to help the family, broke down in tears. She said Curtis Vance was often a target for his mother, then hooked on crack cocaine. His mother blamed Vance for problems in the home. “I don’t like to see this kind of outcome,” she said while looking at Vance. She said she had wanted him removed from the home, but her recommendation was denied.

 

Vance’s Marianna neighbor said he’d often helped her with such tasks as moving furniture and she said she loved him like a grandchild.

 

Curtis Vance’s girlfriend, Shaneika Cooper, testified about their 11-year relationship. They have three children and their pictures were shown to the jury. She said Curtis was a “perfect father” and shared responsibility for the children. He fed, diapered and cared for them, including taking them to a park. Children could be heard outside in the hallway while she testified. At one point, a small hand could be seen pressed to the frosted glass in the door.

 

“If you kill him, you’re killing them because they love him,” she said.

 

Vance’s brother and sister also testified. His sister was raised from infancy by foster parents,  a  pastor and his wife. She said because she had supportive parents who didn’t neglect her, she was the first Vance child to graduate from high school. She said she’d enrolled in college in Tennessee, but withdrew because of a medical condition. She said her brother had urged her not to get involved in his defense because it would be too stressful. She read a letter Vance wrote her from jail urging her to stay the course on her education.

 

Prosecutor Jegley argued for the death penalty, saying the state proved Vance had committed a previous violent felony (rape of a Marianna school teacher); that he killed Pressly to avoid arrest; that he took something of value, and that he committed the murder in an "especially cruel" manner.

 

Defense lawyer Streett asked the jurors to especially consider whether pecuniary gain or an effort to avoid arrest really were factors in the crime. This was not a "contract killing," she said. She showed a photo of Vance as a child. She said the jury's task was to "limit the damage from this point forward." She asked the jury if they could do their jobs without adding another death to the tragedy.

 

If Curtis Vance had a mother who cared half as much for him as Patti Cannady cared for her daughter, she said, "maybe we wouldn't be here."

 

"There's value there. There was something worth valuing," Street said, in showing a picture of Vance as a child. She told jurors "the decision you are about to make may speak as much about you as it does about Curtis Vance."

 

The community expects Vance to receive death, Street said, which she called "the smoother path." But she said later, "This is a time for courage."

 

Jegley rebutted. He said "This case is not about damage, it's about justice." He reminded the jurors that they took an oath not to consider what the community has to say and urged them not to violate their oath. He conceded Curtis Vance has had a tough life and his mother had a tough life, too. But he said that Vance's brother had a lot of the same problems, "but he has graduated from high school with excellent grades, he's going to be amanager at a local McDonald's and he's planning to go to college."

 

Said Jegley: "Same circusmtances, different result." He said nobody had ever told the jury Curtis Vance could not make choices. "He chose to be a scavenger ... He didn't have to graduate and promote himself to the predator he became." Vance could have the left the Pressly house, but chose to return with a weapon and "be the predator."

 

Jegley reminded the jurors of his opening statment, when he mentioned cries that went unanswered in the dark the night of  Pressly's beating. "I heard an answer yesterday. I heard an answer from you. Now it's time to complete the circle."

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