Nov. 16, 2009 -- The parents of slain local TV news anchorwoman Anne Pressly said today that while they were initially disappointed that a jury sentenced her killer to life in prison instead of death, they now accept that it was the best choice.
"In many ways, it may, in fact, be a harsher sentence in the long run than death," Pressly's father, Guy Cannady, told "Good Morning America" today in an exclusive interview.
Cannady and his wife, Patti Cannady, had asked the jury to sentence Curtis Vance to death as punishment for the brutal rape, beating and murder of their daughter.
Patti Cannady told "GMA" that she had made a special request of the defense team after Vance's conviction -- that it look her in the eyes.
"I said, 'You protected the murderer of my daughter, and she had no protection,'" she said. "She was slain like a lamb."
Vance's mother testified at his trial that she had abused him, and a psychiatrist said Vance showed signs of paranoia. The combination of those two testimonies apparently swayed the jury to give Vance life without parole instead of the death penalty.
The jury deliberated last week for only a few hours before finding Vance guilty.
"It was a little bit unexpected at first. Although, after we thought about it, we have complete faith in the criminal justice system," Guy Cannady said, adding that the actual conviction was "far and away the most important aspect."
Patti Cannady said she is grateful that her last words to her daughter were that she loved her.
"She just deserves to be here rather than us," she said.
In an effort to draw attention to Pressly's life and career and away from her vicious murder, Pressly's colleagues released the book "Making Memories, A Celebration of the Life of Anne Pressly."
Proceeds will benefit the Anne Pressly Memorial Scholarship Fund, which will assist women pursuing careers in broadcast journalism.
Through the book and scholarship, Patti Cannady said, "her name will live on forever."
"She lived life to the fullest. She was passionate and compassionate," Guy Cannady said, adding that his daughter made it a point to treat everyone the same regardless of their place in society. "I think that's one of her standing legacies."
Pressly's Mother's Heartwrenching Testimony
Prosecutors told the jurors in the trial that DNA evidence proved that Vance, 29, was the one who broke into Pressly's home in October 2008 and savagely beat and raped her until she was unconscious. Pressly died five days later.
"It feels like we've held our breath over the last year and we were finally able to exhale a little bit," Jessica Dean, a friend of Pressly's, told "Good Morning America" last week after the verdict was read.
Dean described her friend as remarkably funny, smart and dedicated.
"She was the most loyal of friends," Dean said. "She was one of those people who made you laugh from the belly all the way up."
Prosecutors said the DNA evidence also linked Vance to another attack, the rape of a schoolteacher in Marianna, Ark., about 100 miles away. The defense argued that police duped Vance into giving several contradictory confessions regarding Pressly's death.
Patti Cannady was the first person to see her daughter lying unconscious, bloodied and beaten "beyond recognition." Cannady was among the first witnesses to take the stand.
Dean described Pressly's parents as "pillars of strength" through the ordeal.
"They have set this example, and I know they have drawn strongly from their faith," Dean said. "When we get into the fetal position and can't do it anymore we look to Patti and Guy."
From the witness stand, Patti 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 for Pressly's killing.
Cannady had previously said 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."
Pressly's Case May Have Helped Solve Another Crime
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.
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.
ABC News' Steve Osunsami, Reynolds Holding, Katie Escherich and Andrew Paparella contributed to this report.
For more on the Pressly case, visit KATV's Web site.