Anchorwoman's Murder Probe Cracks Cold Case

EXCLUSIVE: Anne Pressly's case may have helped solve a second Arkansas rape.

December 04, 2008, 1:38 PM

Dec. 5, 2008— -- The investigation into the murder of popular Little Rock, Ark., anchorwoman Anne Pressly may help solve a second crime.

Kristen Edwards, of Marianna, Ark., was raped and attacked in April. Police say that DNA evidence from Pressly's crime scene matched Edwards' attacker, and detectives from both cities collaborated to search for a suspect. Curtis Lavell Vance was arrested Nov. 26 and charged with Pressly's murder.

Pressly, 26, a rising star on the local morning news scene, was beaten into a coma and raped in her apartment in October after a break-in, apparently by a stranger who took her laptop computer, a credit card and little else. The face so many in her hometown had come to know was crushed beyond recognition.

Some 100 miles away, Edwards, a schoolteacher and fan of Pressly, 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.

Crime Scene: 'Blood All Over the Walls'

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

Pressly's mother, Patti Cannady, found her daughter the morning after the attack.

"It was brutal," she said. "Blood all over the walls; [I] could not recognize her."

Five days after the attack, Pressly's brain stem ruptured and she died.

"It is the worst nightmare that any human being could ever have to face," said Patti Cannady. "It is a nightmare to lose a child. To find your child. Our lives will never be the same."

She said she is 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."

DNA Evidence Holds Key to Case

Kristen Edwards also wants the opportunity to confront her attacker.

"It's important for me to face him," she said. "I want to say to his face what he's done to me. I want that opportunity."

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.

Two hours away in Lee County, Edwards' case remained unsolved.

"I knew if they ever found a suspect and could match DNA, but I didn't see his face, I didn't know if there would ever be a suspect," said Edwards.

"I have no shame whatsoever in what happened to me," she continued. "What happened to me was not my fault. I did everything that you're, I guess, supposed to do when something like that happens to you."

Edwards went to the hospital immediately after the attack, so detectives working her case had her rapist's DNA to compare. But for seven months there were no breaks in the case.

"I was incredibly and still am to some extent, scared," Edwards said. "There was a lot of fear that whoever it was, was still around."

The week of Thanksgiving, the Arkansas State Crime Lab reported that the DNA gathered at Pressly's crime scene matched that of Edwards' rapist.

And days later, Marianna police detective Carl McCree and Police Chief Vincent Bell stopped a car with suspicious plates. Bell said that in a city of only 5,000, the car triggered "the sixth sense that we sometimes as police officers have."

"The conversation that [the driver] was having with me connected him with the city of Marianna and Little Rock," Bell added. "There was a red flag."

The Marianna police called Little Rock and 15 minutes later detectives were questioning Curtis Vance, who agreed to a DNA sample swabbed from his cheek.

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

A day later, the DNA gathered by police in two Arkansas towns paid off.

"It took a day to get [the DNA evidence] compared," said Hastings. "On Wednesday afternoon, investigators were notified that it was a match."

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

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 only 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 Curtis Vance gave up peacefully.

Vance has said only one word in public since his arrest: A simple "No," when asked if he'd killed Anne Pressly.

Police told ABC News that while Vance denies the murder, he did admit 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," said Hastings. "He denied being involved in it in any way. But his DNA told us otherwise."

Today, Edwards finally feels a little safer, believing the faceless man who raped her is no longer a threat.

"It completely changes your life. It changes your family's life and your friends and co-workers," she said. "I mean, it's devastating. I don't want to see him on the street, ever."

Pressly's parents hope that a trial will answer the questions that keep them up at night.

"What kind of monster are you that would take the life of an innocent child?" Patti Cannady said. "What fills you with rage and hatred and no respect for human life? Why did you have to hurt my child and take her life?"

"When I had to go to Anne's house and close it up for the last time ... It was hard," said Guy Cannady. "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 producer Andrew Paparella contributed to this report.

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

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