The trial of a Marianna, Arkansas man accused in the rape and bludgeoning death of a Little Rock TV anchorwoman finally ended today when the jury handed down a guilty verdict, and am I ever glad it's over. Read more about the trial here on KATV's website. The investigation into the murder of 26-year-old Anne Pressly, an anchorwoman on KATV's morning show, received a lot of media attention here in Memphis, partly because the victim was a graduate of Rhodes College here in Memphis and partly because the suspect was a resident of Marianna, Arkansas, which is in the Memphis viewing area. As the trial unfolded, I read and heard a lot about the crime...horrible things...and lately I have been having bad dreams.
I think the dreams started with the October trial of Lemaricus Davidson, a Memphis native who was found guilty in the 2007 rapes of murders of 21-year-old University of Tennessee student Channon Christian and her 23-year-old boyfriend, Christopher Newsom. That was another crime that got a lot of Memphis coverage because of the Memphis connection. Click here to read more in the Commercial Appeal. It was a particularly brutal crime: the couple was abducted in Knoxville during a 2007 carjacking by several armed men. Both the man and woman were raped, afterwards, the "lucky" one, the man, was fatally shot. The woman, Channon Christian, was repeatedly raped and beaten over a period of more than 24 hours. Then she suffocated after she was choked and then stuffed in a garbage bag and trash can. Let me make this clear--she was folded and stuffed, while still alive, into a kitchen-sized garbage can. She died of what is called "positional asphyxiation." In other words, she might have survived her injuries, but she couldn't breathe after being stuffed into a kitchen-sized garbage can.
I'm told that the evidence in this case was so horrifying that one of the prosecutors fainted in the courtroom. It was so horrible that the hard-bitten journalists at the Commercial Appeal decided to leave some details out of the stories that were eventually printed because they were deemed too shocking to be published in the newspaper.
The trial in the Pressly murder case was just as shocking. The young anchorwoman Anne Pressly was beaten until every bone in her face was shattered. Her pale blond hair was so soaked with blood that emergency room doctors thought she was a redhead. She died of her injuries five days later. Medical examiners determined that what killed her was a blow to her face so powerful that her jaw was forced to the back of her head and cut off blood flow to her brain. Pressly was also raped, but apparently it's not clear whether that occurred before, after or during the savage beating. As if the facts of the case weren't bad enough, the worst aspect of this case, in my opinion, is that Pressly's own mother is the one who discovered her shattered body barely clinging to life. Can you imagine? Anne Pressly was her only child.
I think maybe the Pressly murder really hit home for me because I, too am a Rhodes College graduate. I also worked in morning television in my early 20's. I, too, reported to work at strange hours and lived an upside down life. I, too, came home and left for work at odd times. I don't know anything about the neighborhood where Pressly lived, but I know that when I was young and making very little money in television, I lived in some very cheap apartments in some very scary neighborhoods. I, too, could have been attacked, beaten and raped like Pressly was, and left for my mother to find.
Hence, the dreams. Several times now I have dreamed I am being attacked and raped. In the dream I am so terrified! I know I'm going to die! I wake up and I still feel like I'm suffocating... It takes me a long time to calm my breathing and racing heartbeat. Am I haunted by the ghosts of these murder victims? No, I don't believe in supernatural hauntings. I believe that hearing about these murders has brought a primal fear shared by all women to the surface of my consciousness. We are all afraid of being raped. More than that, and worse than that, we are all afraid of being utterly destroyed--beaten until we're unrecognizable like Anne Pressly was--treated like we are so much garbage like Channon Christian was. Women survive rape--in fact, they survive it every day. But no one can survive the kind of attack that was perpetrated on those two women. Their attackers wanted to do more than just hurt them--they wanted to mutilate them and destroy their very humanity.
Another thread connects these two brutal murder cases. According to their defense attorneys, both Curtis Vance and Lemaricus Davidson were the victims of child abuse. Their attorneys used testimony about the abuse these young men suffered to try to convince the juries to be lenient on them. The jurors would have none of that, and neither will I. While I know it's true that many serial killers and perpetrators of other brutal crimes were themselves victimized as children, I don't think that excuses them. Millions of children are victims of abuse. Heck, if you think child abuse is bad now, just imagine what it was like decades ago, when adults in positions of authority looked the other way when a child showed up to school with bruises or a black eye. No, whatever happened to Vance and Davidson when they were young was not nearly as bad as what they did to Pressly and Christian. How do I know that? I know it from what's happened to me in my dreams... I just hope the dreams will stop now that the trials are over.
I went to the candlelight vigil at the Memphis Animal Shelter tonight for the poor dog that was starved to death. I would say there were 200-300 people there. The poster-dog for this protest is a 5-month old Pit Bull-lab mix, now nicknamed "Justice." She was seized as part of an animal cruelty case and put in a cage at the animal shelter marked, "Hold for Court." Just about two weeks later, she was dead. A necropsy done by an outside veterinarian indicates the puppy was intentionally starved to death.
It's pictures of "Justice" released by the Shelby County Sheriff's Department along with the search warrant that incited so many people to come out on a chilly November evening and risk their lives to park along Tchulahoma and Winchester in that rather scary area where the shelter is located. The pictures of "Justice" printed in the Commercial Appeal this week...the first one showed a friendly-looking young white dog with a goofy spot over one eye--a dog that looked young enough to be rehabilitated, maybe even be adopted by a family looking for a pet. But unfortunately "Justice" would never get that chance... On the same page, the paper printed another picture of "Justice," showing an emaciated husk of a dog shortly before her death. If you saw that second picture, it haunts your dreams. I won't post it here because I need to be able to sleep tonight. But if you want to see it and read more about the raid on the animal shelter, you can go to commercialappeal.com.
The protest was a low-key affair. We held candles as cars drove by and honked. At times someone would start a chant such as "Fire them all!" But the chants would usually die out, as the crowd was motivated and sincere, but not very organized. No one gave any speeches, but several reporters showed up. Newschannel 3's Tom Powell did a live shot during the 6 o'clock news. After that, Mayor Wharton's top aide, Bobby White, appeared and began to speak individually to some members of the crowd. I give the new Mayor points for sending White to represent him at the vigil. It's the sort of thing that Mayor Herenton would never have done. Heck, he seldom even showed up at city-sponsored events! I heard later on the 10 o'clock news that Mayor Wharton plans to make an announcement regarding the Animal Shelter at a news conference at 10 tomorrow morning. Let's hope he makes a lasting change that really makes a difference in the way these animals are treated. Because no creature on this earth deserves to die the way "Justice" did.