Thursday, March 19, 2009

MARIANNA, ARK. (AP) - The man accused of killing an Arkansas television anchorwoman pleaded not guilty Thursday in a separate rape and burglary case in his hometown.

Curtis Lavelle Vance, 28, wore a bullet-resistant vest as he was escorted by six police officers into the Lee County Courthouse. In a brief hearing, Circuit Judge Ann B. Hudson accepted his plea and set trial for July 27.

Little Rock police detectives say a DNA sample from the crime scene of anchorwoman Anne Pressley’s slaying last year linked Vance to her killing and an unsolved rape of a woman in Marianna, about 90 miles east of Little Rock.

When Vance arrived at the courthouse, he only shook his head and said “No” when asked whether he was worried about DNA evidence.

After the hearing, defense attorney Bill James told reporters that he would want separate DNA tests done on the sample that police say links Vance to the Marianna rape and Pressley’s slaying.

James said it was too early to say whether he would need to ask for the trial to be moved to another county or whether Vance would be willing to accept a plea deal.

The woman who claimed Vance raped her sat in the front row during the hearing. She declined to speak to reporters.

Vance faces a capital murder charge in the killing of 26-year-old Pressley, a morning anchorwoman for Little Rock television station KATV. She was attacked on Oct. 20 in her home in Little Rock and died several days later. His trial in that case is set for Sept. 9.

James acknowledged his client faces an uphill battle in public perception, as he is escorted to hearings in shackles and the bullet-resistant vest over his jail uniform. He said he didn’t know if the vest was necessary.

“I haven’t seen anything from the families in this case to lead me to believe he’s in any kind of danger,” James said. “Sometimes we think it’s a little bit of a show. But it’s always a show until you need it.”

James described Vance as a father of three with only a 10th-grade education. He said he plans to interview family members and others to provide more detail about his client.

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