LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A Little Rock District Court judge declined to lift an order Monday sealing the jail records of the suspect in the death of television anchorwoman, information that should be public under state law.
Judge Lee Munson rejected a request by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette to open jail roster information and visitor logs for Curtis Lavelle Vance, 28, of Marianna. Vance faces a capital murder charge in the killing of Anne Pressly, an anchorwoman for Little Rock ABC affiliate KATV.
"The court hereby finds that the high level of publicity and media attention in this case threaten to destroy Mr. Vance's right to a fair trial by an impartial jury," Munson wrote in his order. The "release of Mr. Vance's jail records will irreparably compromise the ability of the defendant to obtain a fair trial and that there is no less restrictive measure by which this right can be protected."
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The order comes after the judge appeared to be receptive to revising the order during a hearing Monday morning.
Jess Askew, a lawyer representing the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, told Munson that the state's Freedom of Information Act and case law held that such records should be public, as they did not details specifics about the police's investigation into Pressly's death.
"There's no reason, with regard to Mr. Vance's defense, to throw a blanket over the jail records and prevent access," Askew said. "This order by the court is vastly overbroad."
Precedent appears to favor Askew's argument. The Arkansas Supreme Court ruled in 1991 that arrest records and jail logs were not exempt from disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act because they aren't investigative records.
Katherine Streett, one of three public defenders representing Vance, argued that release of logs showing who visited Vance could damage his defense.
"He's locked up. The only way we can get people to talk to him is by going through the jail," Streett said.
A separate order also bars the FBI, lawyers, police, prosecutors and the state Crime Laboratory from talking to reporters.
David Bailey, managing editor at the Democrat-Gazette, said the newspaper didn't know whether it would appeal Munson's ruling. Bailey said newspaper officials planned to confer with lawyers about what options they had.
Pressly, 26, was an anchorwoman on KATV's "Daybreak" program and had a small role as a conservative commentator in the Oliver Stone movie "W." Pressly's mother, visiting from out of town at the time of the attack, found Pressly bloody and beaten a half-hour before the anchorwoman was due on air Oct. 20. The anchorwoman suffered extensive injuries to her head and upper torso.
Pressly died five days later from her injuries, never regaining consciousness.
Police worked for weeks without a named suspect until DNA collected at Pressly's home matched a sample from an unsolved April rape in Marianna, about 90 miles east of Little Rock. A Marianna detective suggested that officers investigate Vance, a suspect in several burglaries.
Vance denied being in Little Rock the day of the attack on Pressly and allowed detectives to swab a DNA sample from his saliva, according to a police affidavit. He remains held without bond, facing a capital murder charge in Pressly's death.
After his arrest, Vance simply said "no" when reporters asked if he killed Pressly. He has yet to enter a plea.
Pressly's killing, which occurred near a country club in a well-to-do neighborhood, has transfixed Arkansas' capital city. Munson held the hearing after going through a routine criminal docket of domestic violence and theft cases. Those remaining in the gallery murmured and leaned forward to hear lawyers argue over public records law after realizing it involved Pressly's death.
A judge imposed a gag order Wednesday in the capital murder case against a man accused of fatally beating a Little Rock television anchorwoman.
District Judge Lee Munson issued the order at the request of a lawyer for Curtis Lavelle Vance, who is charged in the death of Anne Pressly.
Pressly, 26, was found beaten and unconscious in her home Oct. 20 and died five days later in a hospital without ever gaining consciousness. Her parents say she had been sexually assaulted and beaten so severely that part of her jaw bone was broken away.
In his order, the judge barred prosecution and defense lawyers, law enforcement officers, the FBI, state Crime Laboratory employees and state Medical Examiner staff from commenting to the media on the case. He also sealed the investigative file.
Munson said he granted the request to protect Vance's right to a fair trial. He said the order would be in effect until Vance appears in circuit court for his plea and arraignment.
Officers arrested Vance, 28, of Marianna, at a Little Rock home Nov. 26, acting on a tip received within minutes of a late-night news conference at which they disclosed his name and photos of him and his car. He was ordered held without bond in a jailhouse court hearing Friday.
Police say DNA evidence links Vance to the slaying. According to an arrest affidavit, Vance denied being in Little Rock the day of the attack.
Prosecutor Larry Jegley, who will handle the case in circuit court, has said that the crime amounts to capital murder but that he might file more than one charge.
Jegley also said he has not decided whether he will seek the death penalty. Death and life in prison without parole are the only penalties for a capital murder conviction in Arkansas.
Pressly was an anchorwoman on KATV's "Daybreak" program and had a small role as a conservative commentator in the Oliver Stone movie "W."