Accused of killing Anne Pressly

Dec. 6, 2008

By Jacob Quinn Sanders
Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

MARIANNA — Curtis Lavelle Vance was cool, the calm center of his own world and of his family in this Lee County town.

The 28-year-old Vance was so cool, always collected, that until the week of Thanksgiving nobody guessed that Little Rock police were about to accuse him of killing news anchor Anne Pressly.

Vance never showed any nervousness or anxiety. Marianna police Sgt. Carl McCree, the only detective on a force of 10 full-time officers, said that even when Little Rock police officers questioned Vance about Pressly’s death, he seemed relaxed.

“I was in that room, and he was just as calm as you and me sitting here,” McCree said in a small, green office at the cramped Marianna police headquarters downtown. “Even when you’d see him around, and he knew you were looking at him for doing some crime, some little burglary or something someplace, he was just as calm as could be.”

When he was charged with capital murder, the brother of Vance’s girlfriend was surprised. An old neighbor was surprised. A former teacher was surprised.

“If you knew Curtis,” said James Newman, who lived in a house behind Vance’s for a time and knew him as a teenager, “you would have never guessed.”

Several residents of Marianna described him as a basketball-loving teenager who skipped the chance to move with much of his family to their native Chicago or to Little Rock. Instead, he chose to grow into a man in Marianna alongside his longtime girlfriend and be a father to their three young children.

Work, mostly manual labor, came to Vance only sporadically and most everybody — police, neighbors and friends — believed that he stole a little here and there to make ends meet.

Lorenzo Cooper is 20 and has known Vance for a decade. Vance and Cooper’s older sister, Sheanika, 25, have dated for about that long after living blocks apart growing up.

“He’s just a nice guy — well, he still is to me,” Lorenzo Cooper said. “It’s hard to hear about what they accuse him of doing. The Curtis I know, man, he loves his kids and he takes care of my sister and he’s just trying to make it.”


Before sunrise on Oct. 20, Patricia Cannady made her usual wake-up call to her daughter Anne Pressly, 26, who had worked for KATV Channel 7 in Little Rock since 2004.

Pressly didn’t answer.

Cannady rushed over and found her daughter in the bedroom of the small, white rented house at 4910 Club Road in the Heights neighborhood of Little Rock.

In the bedroom, Cannady saw blood everywhere — on the bed, on the walls — and found her daughter so badly beaten that she could not recognize her. Pressly’s attacker also sexually assaulted her, Guy Cannady, Pressly’s stepfather, has said.

In addition to the injuries on her head and face, Pressly broke her left hand in what her mother and stepfather have called a fight for her life.

She was unconscious and medically sedated for five days, and died Oct. 25 at St. Vincent Infirmary Medical Center in Little Rock.

Although detectives had DNA evidence from the Club Road crime scene, for several weeks they had few leads that could give them the name of a suspect.

Initially, they got no DNA match. And then on Nov. 24, they learned that the DNA collected from Pressly’s house matched evidence taken from the April 21 rape of a teacher in Marianna.

They called McCree and gave him some details of what they believed happened in the attack on Pressly. Then, investigators asked McCree if he knew of a possible suspect.

He gave them Vance’s name. Little Rock police homicide detectives interviewed Vance the next day at the house where he lived on Mississippi Street in Marianna. In talking to police, he consented to providing a sample of his DNA.

The next day, Little Rock police learned that the Crime Lab had found a match.

McCree said he has sent his rape case file to the Lee County prosecuting attorney’s office for charges to be filed against Vance. No charges had been filed as of Friday.

Almost from the time Pressly’s mother found her, rumors about the case swirled. Investigators worked hard to separate fact from fiction.

After Vance’s Nov. 26 arrest, rumors intensified and spread, leading Vance’s attorneys to ask Little Rock District Judge Lee Munson on Wednesday to issue a gag order barring most agencies involved in investigating the case from speaking to reporters.

Even before the gag order was issued, police in Little Rock offered few details about what Vance told them, often saying only that he answered questions. McCree said Vance admitted to scoping out houses in nice areas of Little Rock, including in the Heights.

On Thursday, Munson issued another order, this time to keep the Pulaski County sheriff’s office from releasing any information about Vance’s time in jail. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette filed a motion Friday asking Munson to reconsider and rescind the second order, citing the Arkansas Freedom of Information Act. A hearing on the motion is set for Monday morning.


Vance lived in Marianna, a poor city of 5,100 people, three-fourths of whom are black, since at least the mid-1990s. He was born in Fort Smith.

His and his girlfriend’s relatives for a time shared an address in a public-housing project on North Anna Strong Circle. Newman, 60, lived directly behind Vance and said his nephew was good friends with him then.

“You never know what kind of man this city is going to make you,” Newman said. “He was a good boy back then. No problems. Respectful. Polite. But this town — I’ll tell you, most of the black folks here, they die scared and mad. Marianna does that to you. Can’t tell how people are going to turn out.”

For a few years Vance lived in one of the city’s scores of dilapidated, sagging houses, this time a few blocks northeast of Anna Strong on Moton Street.

Most recently, he lived in a peeling-white house two stories tall with a leaning screened-in porch on Mississippi Street. He stayed there along with his girlfriend, their children and Sheanika Cooper’s mother, her brother and one of her aunts. The children were a recent addition to the family: The oldest, Destinee, is 3; a son, Daylon, is 2; and the youngest, Danielle, was only recently born.

“Curtis would never do anything to mess up what he’s got with those kids,” Lorenzo Cooper said.

Over the past decade, family members struggled with Sheanika Cooper’s mother Valerie’s diagnosed schizophrenia and her episodes of hearing voices that promised bloody killing. The family rarely discusses it, but the details exist in Lee County court documents. At least three times, judges ordered Valerie Cooper involuntarily committed for psychological treatment and medical care.

Taking a break from playing dominoes with his aunt at the Mississippi Street house on a pane of glass taken from an entertainment center laid atop a gas heater, Lorenzo Cooper said his sister and her boyfriend sometimes fought — like couples do.

“Sometimes you’re mad, and sometimes you’d be happy,” he said. “But Curtis, man, he was usually one calm dude.”


Only once was Vance’s anger documented: Sheanika Cooper accused him of slamming her head into a wall in August before she pulled a knife in response. A judge later dismissed a domestic battery charge against him.

Aside from that charge, Vance’s criminal record in Lee County consists almost exclusively of traffic offenses such as not having a driver’s license or insurance or driving on a suspended license. Records show he still owes $1,226 in fines.

Marianna police formally accused Vance of stealing one time — in 2006 after he broke into a car outside a video store and took CDs. A judge reduced the breaking-and-entering charge to theft. Lee County court records were incomplete, and it was unclear what sentence Vance received.

Until early November, McCree said, he thought of Vance as a “spot and steal” thief, who would see something he wanted and then go back later and take it.

“We were — well, we still are — looking at him for some burglaries we’ve had,” McCree said. “We just haven’t been able to get enough to charge him yet.”

After the rape of the Marianna teacher in April, McCree said, he first looked at another suspect. He sent DNA evidence from the crime scene to the Crime Laboratory on April 22 and found out in early November that his top suspect didn’t commit the rape.

About the same time, on Nov. 10, Marianna police charged Sheanika Cooper with two counts of theft by receiving after she sold a few items at a pawnshop. As she had in August when she hand-wrote an affidavit accusing Vance of ramming her head into the wall during an argument over her driving his car, she pointed a finger his way, McCree said.

“She told us that, sure, she sold the items, but it was her boyfriend, Mr. Vance, who was stealing the stuff,” McCree said.

None of the pawned items came from the rape victim. (McCree said the rapist stole $3 and a cell phone). But Vance was fresh in his mind, and the detective began thinking that perhaps he had a new suspect.


Violence had not been something that those who knew Vance even before adulthood saw from him.

Irish Williams, principal of Lee Senior High School and a former U.S. Marine, was a social studies teacher and basketball coach a decade ago when Vance was a student. Yearbooks for Vance’s time there don’t exist — cutbacks swallowed the printing budget — but Williams said he remembered Vance well.

“This is a small town and a smaller school,” Williams said of his enrollment of fewer than 400. “It’s hard not to know something about everybody.”

Vance was an average student

and seemed to try to avoid notice, Williams said. On the basketball court, things were different. Vance was exceptional, Williams said.

“He was never on the team — a lot of the best players from around here are never on the team — but he’d come in all the time for nighttime basketball when we’d open the gym for the kids,” Williams said. “You see, there really isn’t anything to do in Marianna.”

And while other students would take out their aggression on the ball court, Vance never showed emotion and anger in the heat of competition, Williams said.

“Never once did I see him lash out, act out,” Williams said. “When he got arrested for killing that poor woman, I was absolutely shocked and surprised.”

  1. i always wanted to wonder why curtis vance killed anne pressley.i read dat she used to be a man.and maybe curtis vance had a sexual relationship before she had da sex change.and once she gotten it.she didnt have any need for him dis meant dat she can talk to anybody she he found where she was and murdered her/him,wateva.

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