Lee County justice: the mistrial of Curtis Vance 

It would be a nightmare for any woman — for any human being.

On the morning of April 21, 2008, Kristen Edwards got up and started getting ready for school. A native of Maine, she'd been a science teacher at Lee High School in Marianna for seven years, assigned there by the Teach for America program, which places eager young educators in under-performing schools. After getting out of the shower and putting on her bathrobe, Edwards was walking through the yellow house where she lived alone at 87 E. Mississippi St. in Marianna when a stranger grabbed her from behind.

The attacker told her he had a gun; that he "knew her house," and would kill her if she looked at him. Pushed face down on a nearby couch, she was raped in her own living room. After locking Edwards onto an enclosed back porch, the man fled with her cell phone and charger, a video and $3 — the only cash she had. Edwards never saw his face.

Seven months later, the DNA taken from Edwards' robe and body during a rape examination at a local hospital was processed at the Arkansas State Crime Lab. It turned out to be the break a lot of people a hundred miles away from Marianna had been looking for: a clear match for DNA evidence found in the home of KATV television anchor Anne Pressly, who had been raped and brutally beaten in her Little Rock home on Oct. 20, 2008, dying from her injuries five days later.

Though police now had a DNA profile linked to both the Pressly case and a rape in Marianna, the sample didn't match anyone in the system. Acting on a hunch, Marianna police detectives focused on a small-time burglar from town named Curtis Lavelle Vance. His cheeks were swabbed by investigators, and within days the news came back: Vance's DNA matched the genetic evidence collected in both the Marianna case and at the Pressly crime scene. Vance was arrested in Little Rock on Nov. 26, 2008. The DNA evidence against him was a key factor in Vance's eventual conviction in the Pressly case. Spared the death penalty by only two jurors who held out against capital punishment, he now sits in prison for life without the possibility of parole.

Given how good the DNA evidence is in the Marianna rape, how much of a slam dunk it seems — 16 out of 16 genetic markers, evidence that would be the high-five moment on any "CSI"-style police procedural show worth its salt — not to mention the fact that Vance took the stand in the rape trial and testified that he had, in fact, told Little Rock detectives in a taped confession that he was in Edwards' house on the morning of the rape, it was confusing for a lot of people when on Feb. 3, a jury in Marianna decided they couldn't reach a verdict. The case was declared a mistrial.

The jury split seven to five along strictly racial lines — seven blacks and five whites. Even though it would be hard to find a genetics expert in the world who would tell you there was more than an unfathomably remote chance that the semen found inside the victim belonged to anyone other than Curtis Vance, the fact of the matter is this: All the white members of the jury were apparently swayed by that evidence, while all the black jurors were not.

While some we talked to say that the reason for that could be everything from a community-wide distrust of police to a simple lack of understanding among the potential jury pool when it comes to DNA, others — including the victim — contend that the case was decided on a factor that has nothing to do with evidence: the race of Curtis Vance.


Comments (27)

Showing 1-25 of 27

Add a comment

Subscribe to this thread:
Showing 1-25 of 27

Add a comment

More by David Koon

  • Arkansas Circus Arts: under the big top

    Group helps keep the three-ring arts alive for a new generation.
    • Jul 28, 2016
  • 2016 Best of Arkansas editors' picks

    A few of our favorite things.
    • Jul 28, 2016
  • 1995: When even the thought of 'Madam President' was offensive.

    Following Hillary Clinton's historic selection as the presidential nominee of the Democratic Party last night in Philadelphia, Jezebel.com makes note of just how far we've come: a 1995 story in which discount behemoth Walmart pulled t-shirts from their stores because they featured the words "Someday, a woman will will be PRESIDENT!"
    • Jul 27, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Casting out demons: why Justin Harris got rid of kids he applied pressure to adopt

    Rep. Justin Harris blames DHS for the fallout related to his adoption of three young girls, but sources familiar with the situation contradict his story and paint a troubling picture of the adoption process and the girls' time in the Harris household.
    • Mar 12, 2015
  • Ruth Coker Burks, the cemetery angel

    In the darkest hour of the AIDS epidemic, Ruth Coker Burks cared for hundreds of people whose families had abandoned them. Courage, love and the 30-year secret of one little graveyard in Hot Springs. 
    • Jan 8, 2015
  • A child left unprotected

    State Rep. Justin Harris and his wife adopted a young girl through the state Department of Human Services. How did she, six months later, end up in the care of a man who sexually abused her?
    • Mar 5, 2015

Most Shared

  • New book documents the work of visionary instrument-maker Ed Stilley

    Ed Stilley is one of those special, extraordinary visionaries who are driven to create. In Stilley's case, God was the driver and He told Stilley in 1979 to build acoustic  instruments for children.
  • Best of Arkansas 2016

    Readers elect their favorites.
  • Hillary hit jobs

    It's always been my conviction that if Hillary Clinton could be appointed president, she'd do a bang-up job. Getting elected, however, might prove more difficult.
  • These Hogs won't be thin

    This may be the strongest returning receiving corps that the Razorbacks have fielded in the post-Petrino days.
  • Trump-Putin 2016

    Among the thousand bizarre aspects of the presidential campaign has been the Donald Trump-Vladimir Putin axis.

Latest in Cover Stories

Event Calendar

« »


  1 2
3 4 5 6 7 8 9
10 11 12 13 14 15 16
17 18 19 20 21 22 23
24 25 26 27 28 29 30

Most Viewed

Most Recent Comments


© 2016 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation