Curtis Vance Convicted in Murder of Anchorwoman Anne Pressly

Convicted of capital murder, Curtis Vance could face death penalty.

November 2, 2009, 1:38 PM

Nov. 12, 2009— -- Less than a week since emotional testimony began, a jury found Curtis Vance guilty in the rape and beating death of popular Little Rock, Ark., anchorwoman Anne Pressly today.

After the verdict was read, Pressly's mother, Patti Cannady, reportedly raised her hand and said, "Praise God. Praise God," before bursting into tears. The jury took less than two hours to decide Vance's guilt, Arkansas Online reported.

Prosecutors told the jurors in the trial that DNA evidence proved that Vance, 29, was the one who broke into Pressly's home last October and savagely beat and raped her until she was unconscious. Pressly died five days later.

The jury must now decide whether Vance should face the death penalty or life in prison, the Associated Press reported.

Prosecutors said the DNA evidence also linked Vance to another attack, the rape of schoolteacher Kristen Edwards of Marianna, Ark., about 100 miles away. The defense argued that police duped Vance into giving several contradictory confessions regarding the attack on Pressly.

Cannady found her daughter lying unconscious, bloodied and beaten "beyond recognition" in her home. Cannady was among the first witnesses to take the stand.

From the witness stand, Cannady stared down at Vance and then, choking back tears, described the nightmare of discovering her daughter's battered body.

"It was horrific," she told the jury. "I absolutely could not take the scene in. I could not imagine what I was seeing when I found my daughter."

Pressly was a popular morning news anchor in Little Rock. Before the attack, her parents used to call at 3 a.m. to make sure she was awake. But on the morning of Oct. 20, 2008, after repeated calls, there was no answer. Frantic, Cannady rushed to her daughter's home.

She found the back door wide open and, inside, her daughter was gasping for breath in a pool of blood.

"It was Anne, but she was so swollen and her hair was completely matted with blood, she was beyond recognition," Cannady said. "There was blood on the ceiling. That's how horrific her attack was."

A nurse who also testified told the court she had never seen anyone so badly wounded who was still alive.

In opening statements, prosecutors told jurors that DNA evidence would provide all the proof necessary to convince them that Vance is guilty and also linked to another brutal rape. The defense said Vance was arrested only because police were under pressure to arrest someone in connection with Pressly's death.

Cannady had said previously she was determined to look her daughter's murderer in the eye.

"I am not leaving," she said. "I will see this person eye-to-eye. They'll have to face me. And God."

High-Profile Case Attracts Familiar Jurors

Police said Vance did not know the anchorwoman before allegedly beating her to death.

As reported on "20/20" in December, the investigation into Pressly's murder may have helped solve a second crime.

Kristen Edwards, of Marianna, Ark., was raped and attacked in April. Police said that DNA evidence from Pressly's crime scene matched Edwards' attacker, and detectives from both cities collaborated to search for a suspect.

Edwards was attacked while getting ready for work.

"It was a surprise," Edwards told ABC News. "He was hiding in my living room, and I never saw it coming. Never saw it coming."

Edwards' attacker had come at her from behind, and forced her to lie on her stomach so she could not see his face.

Edwards said her rapist warned her not to turn around and told her he had a gun and would kill her if she tried to look at him. And while she feared for her life until the end, she survived.

"I pretty much did as I was told to do," she said. "I didn't look, I didn't fight, I stopped yelling -- that sort of thing."

But Pressly fought back against her attacker. Doctors also found that her left hand had been broken, a defensive wound.

DNA Evidence Holds Key to Case

From day one, Little Rock police had powerful evidence in Pressly's case. She had fought her attacker and detectives recovered DNA from sperm, blood and his skin, taken from beneath Pressly's fingernails.

"We believed that we had enough to charge somebody if we just knew who that person was," said Lt. Terry Hastings, the public information officer for the Little Rock Police Department.

Pressly's Mother: 'Why Did You Hurt My Child?'

The case broke when Vance was stopped by police because of a suspicious license plate. Some things Vance said make police suspicious and they asked for a DNA swab, which Vance agreed to supply.

Vance's DNA matched both cases but, by then, he had fled from his home, and Little Rock police held a Thanksgiving eve news conference asking for help from the public.

A woman in Marianna said she had seen a man who resembled Vance near her home and Lori Garner, a personal trainer at a gym a handful of blocks from where Pressly lived, told police she saw a man stalking women around the gym just before the murder. She and her client agreed Vance was the man they had seen.

"I feel confident with my opinion that it was him," she said.

The tips paid off almost immediately. Within an hour and a half, police had surrounded a Little Rock home and Vance gave up peacefully.

While Vance denied the murder, police said, he admitted to being at Pressly's house.

"We believe he probably saw her in the neighborhood, probably getting gas, maybe doing something else and then followed her and attacked her," Hastings said. "He denied being involved in it in any way. But his DNA told us otherwise."

Pressly's parents said returning to their daughter's house was difficult.

"When I had to go to Anne's house and close it up for the last time ... It was hard," her father, Guy Cannady, said. "When I walked out that door, locked the door for the last time and walked away. It's something I'll never forget."

ABC News' Reynolds Holding, Katie Escherich and Andrew Paparella contributed to this report.

For more on the Pressly case, visit KATV's Web site.

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