Sunday, November 15, 2009

My Sunday Feeling

Curtis Vance caught two consecutive life terms from a Pulaski County jury that convicted him for the murder of local television personality Anne Pressly. He also was received another 20 years or so for burglary.

I am no criminal lawyer. But it seemed to me that the defense's strategy was not to piss the jury off in order to keep him off Death Row when it got to the penalty phase of the trial. And the fact of his guilt was never seriously in question to my mind. He foolishly gave 3 confessions to the police. DNA matched him up to both this crime and another rape in the little town of Marianna where a detective played a hunch and brought the knucklehead in for questioning for the rape there and ultimately tipped off the police here. Not enough credit has been given the Marianna PD for the solid police work that led to Vance's apprehension.

In any event, the only question to my mind, and to the minds of most other lawyers that I spoke to, was whether Vance would get the death penalty or spend the rest of his days in the joint. One of my criminal lawyer friends said on Facebook that as a "whodunit" the Curtis Vance case was not even particularly interesting.

Ah yes. Facebook. Where the pulse of the zeitgeist may be regularly taken on any subject on any particular day. And judging from the comments I read during the trial, there's a lot of people had what I perceive to be an unusual sense of personal vindication at the outcome of the trial. I know people in the media that were friends with Anne Pressly. By all accounts, and I mean all accounts, for all of her incandescent beauty she was a sober, religious and exceedingly proper young woman.

Her death was exquisitely brutal. She was raped and quite literally beaten to a pulp in a rent house situated in a neighborhood where violent crime is virtually unknown. The incomprehensible violence visited upon this woman in her bed created a spasm of fear in the Heights-Hillcrest part of Little Rock. The sale of handguns spiked. Women in the neighborhood took self defense classes. Women who thought nothing of walking alone started buddying up with their neighbors.

And so relief at the arrest and conviction of the man who killed a beloved public figure and created a panic among law abiding citizens is entirely appropriate. A feeling of personal vindication is not.

Some of the statements in the media and on Facebook have been nothing if not irresponsible. Pressly's mother was quoted as being angry with the defense lawyers for "protecting" the man that killed her daughter. She has been the model of grace and comportment up until now. Her wild grief has colored the better judgment she has historically displayed. In my book, she gets a pass.

Not so the Facebook posters who have stated that God moved the jury to convict (no disrespect to God, but Vance's big mouth helped the jury just as much), who have said that Vance deserves no more appeals or that they should have shot him right there in the Courtroom after the guilty verdict was read.

The people that write such things forget that there is a difference between punishment and vengeance. The criminal justice system attempts to mete out penalties that are proportionate to the offense, taking all the aggravating and mitigating factors into account. This is the job of the 12 people on the jury after they are instructed by the Judge.

Vengeance is personal. Criminal liability is the result of numerous factors only one of which is the act complained of.

From what I can tell everybody did their jobs. The Judge kept the proceedings from becoming a circus. The prosecution got a dangerous man off the streets for good and the defense kept him off Death Row.

No possible outcome in the Courtroom would have brought Anne Pressly back to her friends and family. Neither will irresponsible commentary from those who confuse the rule of law with vengeance.

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