Anchorwoman Anne Pressly Beaten to Death with Garden Tool by Curtis Lavelle Vance, Says Detective

(AP Photo/KATV Television)
Photo: Anne Pressly

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (CBS/AP) Curtis Lavelle Vance, the man accused of killing beautiful Arkansas television anchorwoman Anne Pressly, told police he beat her with a wood-handled garden tool after she awoke and found him committing a sex act beside her bed, a detective testified Tuesday.

Vance described how he hit the KATV personality as many as five times, shattering her left arm as she held it up to shield her face, Little Rock police Detective Tommy Hudson said. Hudson's testimony came as Pulaski County Circuit Judge Chris Piazza weighs whether to throw out Vance's often convoluted statements to police, and DNA evidence, before the trial set for Nov. 2.

Vance, 28, of Marianna, has pleaded not guilty to charges of capital murder, rape, residential burglary and theft over the Oct. 20 attack on Pressly at her home near the Little Rock Country Club. Pressly, 26, died five days later, having never regained consciousness.

Pressly graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., and worked for WBBJ-TV in Jackson, Tenn., in 2006.

Vance could face lethal injection if convicted of the slaying, as Piazza rejected defense lawyers' claims Tuesday that the death penalty overwhelmingly targets blacks convicted of violent crime against whites.

(AP/Little Rock Police Dept., HO)
Photo: Curtis Vance

The team of public defenders representing Vance claim police improperly obtained the statements from him, as well as pressured him into offering saliva swabs for DNA testing. Vance himself has claimed police shoved a gun in his face at one point to get him to confess.

Detective J.C. White testified that Vance went willingly to the Marianna police station Nov. 25, 2008, as authorities looked into possible connections between the Pressly attack and an unsolved rape in Vance's hometown, about 90 miles east of Little Rock.

White also testified that laboratory testing found that a hair found in Pressly's home matched Vance's DNA. Last November, police said it also matched a sample from a rape in Marianna. Officers focused on Vance after he was reported being in an area that had seen several burglaries.

A tape-recorded police interview played in court had Vance sounding friendly and cooperating with detectives when they first interviewed him. A detective also testified that Vance used the swab to provide the saliva that prosecutors say ties him to the slaying.

"Y'all showed me the utmost respect," Vance said at the end of that interview.

Police arrested Vance on Nov. 26 and detectives conducted another interview with him that night. Vance refused to have the interview recorded, but Hudson testified that the man offered three different versions of what happened the night of the attack on Pressly. Each version put him in the Heights neighborhood, looking to steal laptop computers, the detective said.

Hudson said Vance's final version put him inside Pressly's house, beating her with a garden tool he stole from a backyard shed. Vance later said he threw the tool out of his car when driving over the Arkansas River. When detectives questioned him about Pressly's rape, Vance requested a lawyer and ended the interview.

Asked what Vance looked like during the interview, Hudson offered one word: "Caught."

(AP Photo/Brian Chilson)
Photo: Flowers, candles and other objects are left in front of the Little Rock, Ark., home of television anchorwoman Anne Pressly, Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008.

While in jail, Vance twice asked to speak with detectives. Prosecutors played in court a recording of a Dec. 10 interview in which Vance claimed he committed robberies with two other men and that they attacked Pressly while he moved his car.

Vance couldn't offer a clear reason why police found his semen on Pressly's bedsheets and body. Piazza asked the recording be stopped after an hour and ordered the hearing to resume Wednesday morning.

Before reviewing evidence Tuesday, Piazza said prosecutors reject defense claims that black men convicted in killings are sentenced to death at an excessive rate.

"Statistics and studies show race plays a role," argued defense lawyer Katherine Streett.

Piazza also said the public and reporters could attend the pretrial hearings, rejecting a defense argument that additional publicity would make it more difficult to find a fair jury.

An open court hearing "is one of the most important rights there is," Piazza said. "I just think the more you hide, the worse it gets as far as scrutiny."

The judge also said he would not isolate jurors during the trial, which is expected to last a week.

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