LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The Arkansas Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal by a man convicted of killing a Little Rock television anchorwoman, saying that genetic evidence used to link him to the crime was not obtained illegally and that jurors weren't unfairly influenced by seeing him in prison garb.
Curtis Vance was convicted of capital murder, rape, burglary and theft in the October 2008 death of KATV anchor Anne Pressly in her Little Rock home. Pressly, who hosted the station's "Daybreak" program, died five days after the attack, which was so brutal that it left the 26-year-old's face shattered and unrecognizable.
The state pursued the death penalty, but instead, jurors recommended Vance spend the rest of his life in prison with no chance of parole.
Vance's legal team argued that their client was innocent and that DNA evidence and taped interviews shouldn't have been allowed in court because they were obtained after he was "illegally seized at his residence." The state Supreme Court disagreed.
"We reject (Vance's) fruit-of-the-poisonous-tree argument as being without merit," Associate Justice Donald L. Corbin wrote in the court's unanimous decision.
Katherine Streett, one of the attorneys who represented Vance, declined to comment. His lawyers earlier painted a picture of an emotionally disturbed man with a rocky upbringing by an abusive mother who was addicted to crack cocaine.
In various confessions made to police, Vance said he went to Pressly's neighborhood looking to steal laptop computers. After entering her home through a door she left open for her dogs, authorities said, Vance encountered Pressly. Patti Cannady, Pressly's mother who was visiting, told jurors she drove to Pressly's house and found her battered and lying in a fetal position on her bed when she didn't answer a wake-up call.
During Vance's trial in 2009, a DNA expert testified that a single hair found in Pressly's bedroom placed Vance at the scene. Police said genetic testing matched it to evidence gathered after an alleged rape half a year earlier in Vance's hometown of Marianna, 90 miles east of Little Rock.
Marianna police said Vance had been seen loitering near homes that had recently been burglarized and authorities arranged an interview.
Vance "signed a consent form and gave his saliva sample for the purpose of ruling him out as a suspect in the rape," Corbin wrote in the Supreme Court's opinion.
Lab results later linked the alleged rape in Marianna with the attack on Pressly.
Vance stood trial on a rape charge for the Marianna attack, but a Lee County judge declared a mistrial after jurors couldn't agree on a unanimous verdict. Fletcher Long, the prosecutor in that case, said he doesn't plan to retry it. He praised the Supreme Court's decision on Thursday.
"It's of course excellent news because he needs to be locked up where he can't hurt people for the rest of his life," Long said. "But it doesn't change the principle in the other case."
Beyond scientific evidence, Vance's appeal took issue with his clothing, arguing that the court should have granted a mistrial in the Pressly case after two jurors saw him in shackles and prison garb as he left the courthouse. He wore regular clothes during his trial and was not handcuffed or shackled inside the courtroom.
The Supreme Court didn't buy it.
"The sighting was brief and inadvertent, by less than all of the jurors, outside the courtroom after trial had recessed for the day, and the jurors had previously been informed that (Vance) was incarcerated," Corbin wrote.
Jeannie Nuss can be reached at www.twitter.com/jeannienuss
- Arkansas Supreme Court
- death penalty