LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – Prospective jurors in the trial of a man accused of killing an Arkansas TV anchorwoman were told Monday to ignore what they have heard about the high-profile case so far and rely on what they learn in the courtroom.
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Curtis Lavelle Vance of Marianna, who is charged with bludgeoning KATV personality Anne Pressly, 26, in her home late on Oct. 20, 2008. Pressly died five days later. He has pleaded not guilty.
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"This is going to be a different kind of trial," Circuit Judge Chris Piazza said, noting its high profile.
A pool of about 100 potential jurors initially packed Piazza's courtroom. A woman who said she didn't watch local TV news was the only one who said she had never heard of the case.
Once the pool was whittled down, 50 names were drawn and lawyers then addressed people individually to determine if they had conflicts. One woman said she had the same hairdresser as Pressly's mother and learned details about the case during her monthly hair appointments. She was excused.
Prosecutor Larry Jegley told prospective jurors that some of what he intends to prove has not come out in news reports about the case. Police have said Vance picked Pressly's home at random. Her mother found her after Pressly didn't answer her daily wake-up call.
Vance, who also faces rape and burglary charges, sat quietly at the defense table, wearing a buttoned-down blue shirt but no tie. Courtroom marshals had removed his shackles so potential jurors wouldn't see him restrained.
His attorney Katherine S. Streett focused her questions on how people felt about the penalties Vance might face. She asked whether they agreed that all capital murder convictions should result in the death penalty and if they would consider mitigating circumstances, such as a person being under the influence of drugs or alcohol or having endured abuse as a child.
One man, who was ultimately excused, said it would be difficult to find a capital murder convict who doesn't deserve execution.
The only other option is life in prison without parole. Before deliberations, the judge would read jury instructions for capital murder and for first-degree murder, for which the shortest sentence is 10 years.
Earlier in the day, Piazza said he anticipated some possible jurors wouldn't have fully formed opinions about the death penalty.
"People have feelings about the death penalty, but they're more abstract until they're put in this situation," the judge said.
Streett also indicated that she planned to challenge DNA evidence that allegedly implicated Vance. Authorities say DNA collected at Pressly's home later matched samples taken from a rape in Marianna, in which Vance is charged.
Police recorded a series of confessions from Vance, ranging from convoluted stories in which he tried to implicate his aunt's boyfriend to a monotone final account describing what happened after he entered Pressly's home.
Vance has claimed that "police trickery" confused him into giving up the samples and the confessions.
Piazza said he hoped to seat a jury by Wednesday. The trial was set to run for two weeks, ending Nov. 13. Among the witnesses expected to testify are Pressly's mother and TV reporters who worked with the anchorwoman.
Pressly graduated from Rhodes College in Memphis, Tenn., in three years with a degree in political science. She interned at Little Rock's ABC affiliate KATV throughout college. Pressly also had a bit part in Oliver Stone's George W. Bush biopic, "W."