Little Rock lawyer Bill James was the successful defense attorney for Curtis Vance in his trial on a charge of raping a Marianna teacher. A mistrial was declared when the jury couldn’t reach a verdict. James himself — and since the verdict, others — have raised the issue of whether race played a role. Vance is black, the victim defendant white, the jury majority black in a majority black community. The prosecution presented DNA evidence that Vance’s sperm was found on the victim and also a confession he gave and later recanted to Little Rock police detectives questioning him in the slaying of Anne Pressly, the KATV anchor. Vance, serving a life sentence for killing Pressly, testified in the rape case. That allowed his criminal history to be discussed. He said he did not rape the teacher. James argued in closing arguments that DNA evidence could be mistaken.


James has sent an opinion piece on the jury system. He does not address the Vance case specifically. But he says it’s written in response to the column by John Brummett published in the Times. He sets out to answer these general questions (not, it should be noted, specifically linked to the Vance case):

How can you represent someone charged with doing that to someone? How can you represent someone that you know is guilty? How can you live with yourself when your representation of a guilty person allows them to escape punishment for what they have done? In sum, how can you do what you do?

James’ full essay follows: