Nunn's life had begun to unravel

aclark@herald-leader.com, vhoneycutt@herald-leader.comSeptember 13, 2009 

Friends of former state representative and one-time gubernatorial candidate Steve Nunn said his life started to unravel after a divorce and the death of his father — and the issuance of a domestic violence order against him earlier this year led to a further downward spiral.

Nunn, 56, remained in a Bowling Green Hospital Saturday, a day after he was taken into custody at the Hart County cemetery where his parents are buried. Nunn's former fiancée, Amanda Ross, 29, had been found shot to death hours earlier in front of her Lexington home.

Barren County Sheriff Chris Eaton, who has known Nunn for about 20 years, said Nunn has had personal problems since his divorce from his second wife, Tracey Damron, and the death of his father, former Gov. Louie B. Nunn.

"You could tell Steve wasn't Steve a lot of times," Eaton said.

When Nunn was found Friday, he had slit his wrists, according to law enforcement officials. He also had a gun, which police say he brandished at them, leading to six charges against Nunn of wanton endangerment of a police officer.

Before cutting his wrists, Nunn had placed mementos on the graves of his parents — the late governor and late first lady Beula Nunn.

After officers secured the scene, Nunn asked to call his daughters, Eaton said. He also asked to talk to them during the ambulance ride to the hospital.

"He was just apologetic, saying he was sorry and things like that," said Eaton, whom Nunn had asked to ride to the hospital with him. "He hated to put everybody in the position that he put them in that morning."

Nunn also apologized for affecting his father's legacy, Eaton said.

Nunn did not talk about Ross's death, Eaton said.

Jennie Lou Penn, Nunn's only sister, said her brother remains in fair condition in the hospital.

Nunn could be discharged from the hospital Sunday, state police Trooper Charles Swiney said. He will then be transported to the Hart County jail.

Penn said Nunn's family was "saddened and horrified" by Friday's events. Penn offered her "deepest sympathies" to Ross's family. She declined to make any additional comment.

Lexington police found Ross shot at 6:36 a.m. Friday near the parking lot of Opera Square Town Homes. She died later that morning at University of Kentucky Medical Center.

Police began to search for Nunn shortly thereafter.

Lt. Douglas Pape, Lexington police spokesman, has said that Nunn was a person that detectives "would like to talk to" in relation to Ross's death. No charges had been filed as of Saturday in the slaying.

Many who know Nunn say his problems began to spiral out of control after he resigned in March from his post as Gov. Steve Beshear's deputy secretary for Health and Family Services. The resignation followed charges that he had assaulted Ross.

"In Steve's world, I think he thought he hit rock bottom," Eaton said.

Nunn and Ross had a tumultuous relationship that prompted a judge to grant Ross a domestic violence order against Nunn earlier this year.

According to testimony, Nunn was at Ross's home after dinner the night of Feb. 17. Ross alleged that Nunn struck her four times in the face that night and threw her against a hallway lamp, breaking it. She said he then threw a cup of bourbon in her face.

But Nunn said during the hearing that Ross blocked his path to prevent him from leaving her apartment. Nunn testified that he "struggled" for 20 minutes to reach the stairs. He described Ross as "strong like a bull" because she worked out with a personal trainer twice a week.

"I admit I did slap her face, and she stopped attacking me," he said during testimony.

Ross noted in her Feb. 18 domestic violence complaint: "I called police because this has happened many times before."

Despite the conflicting stories, a judge ruled that there was enough evidence to enter a domestic violence order against Nunn.

Nunn entered an Alford plea — he admitted no guilt, but acknowledged there is enough evidence to produce a guilty verdict — on Aug. 3 in Fayette County to a misdemeanor domestic violence assault charge.

Attorney Astrida Lemkins, who said she is a friend of Nunn's and was co-counsel for Nunn during a court hearing about the domestic violence order, said the issuance of the order "caused all the problems."

"It caused Steve Nunn to lose his job, reputation and drove him to slit his wrists," she said.

"If there does turn out to be a relationship between the death of Amanda Ross and Steve Nunn, it is not because the DVO failed, but rather because the DVO was issued," said Lemkins.

Lemkins said Ross should have also been held accountable for her role in the domestic violence incident.

"Things are not black and white," she said. "There's a lot of gray in there."

Eaton said the domestic violence case was deeply embarrassing to Nunn. "You could tell he was real concerned about his case and what people were thinking about him," he said.

Dale Emmons, a political consultant and close friend of the Ross family, disputed Lemkins' characterization of Ross. Emmons pointed out that a judge had reviewed the evidence in the case and saw fit to grant a protective order to Ross.

Ross, who graduated from the Sayre School in 1998, worked for the Kentucky Department of Insurance as director of financial standards and examination since 2008.

Emmons said Ross was leaving for work Friday morning when she was "ambushed" outside her home. Emmons said Ross's family has been told that she was shot in the back of the head. Law enforcement officials have not confirmed that detail.

"I don't know how anyone could say that Amanda was responsible for her own murder," Emmons said. "She was the victim."

Funeral arrangements for Ross were still pending Saturday.

Reach Ashlee Clark at (859) 231-1443 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 1443.

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