LITTLE ROCK, Ark. – A jury sentenced a man to life in prison Thursday for the beating death of a popular Arkansas television personality, sparing him the death penalty after hearing testimony about his rocky upbringing by an abusive, drug-addicted mother.
Jurors deliberated less than three hours before recommending that Curtis Lavelle Vance, 29, be sentenced to life in prison without parole for the death of Anne Pressly. They also handed down a life sentence for rape, 20 years for burglary and 10 years for theft.
Pressly, 26, was an anchor on KATV's "Daybreak" program and had a bit part in the President George W. Bush biopic "W." She died Oct. 25, 2008, five days after a brutal assault that crushed her face and left her gasping for air.
Vance's mother testified Thursday that she was abusive, and a doctor said Vance showed signs of paranoia. Pressly's mother, Patti Cannady, told jurors Wednesday what it was like to lose an only child.
After the verdict was read, Cannady mouthed "It's OK" to prosecutor Larry Jegley, nodded, and tucked her hands over her heart. But as she left the courtroom, Cannady stopped and turned at the door. She leaned toward the defense attorneys and said, "You protected someone who should have never been protected."
Vance, who had appeared uncomfortable during much of his mother's testimony, showed no emotion as the sentence was read.
Jacqueline Vance Burnett had told jurors she was an abusive mother who had a number of crack-fueled run-ins with the law.
Burnett said she worked as a prostitute to earn money for drugs and once snapped after a "date" fell through. She said Vance had been left in charge of a younger brother and that when she returned, the brother was smearing feces on a wall. Burnett said she threw Vance into a brick wall several times until he nearly passed out.
She also told jurors she would buy drugs with money her children received from Social Security after their fathers died and that she had spent time in prison for burglary, forgery and theft.
Burnett said she has since gone through rehab and she apologized to Vance from the witness stand for throwing him against the wall. He mumbled something, then said "I love you, momma."
During closing arguments, prosecutor Larry Jegley called Vance's upbringing "an American tragedy," but he noted that siblings and other family members have led successful lives and said Vance's situation was a result of his own choices.
"Do I like it? No," Jegley said after the sentence was read. "But they can consider all of them. That's the law."
Defense lawyer Katherine Streett had urged jurors — who had convicted Vance a day earlier of capital murder, rape, burglary and theft of property — to have the "courage" to not impose the death penalty.
"The decision you're about to make may speak as much about you as it does about Curtis Vance," Streett said. If mitigation in this case ... has any meaning to you in a significant way, you do not have to kill him," Streett said.
Vance's attorneys did not comment after the sentence.
Another brother, B.J. Montgomery of Little Rock, testified that Vance played with him, made sure he did his homework and protected him from their mother. At times Vance would cook for the rest of the family, Montgomery said. "That's my brother, and I love him," he said.
Vance's girlfriend, Sheanika Cooper, said he often spoiled their three children, two girls and a boy.
A psychiatrist had told jurors Vance showed signs of paranoia and compared the man's brain to a car with bad wiring.
"Sometimes it works. Sometimes it doesn't," said Dr. Shawn Agharkar, who teaches at Morehouse and Emory universities.