Steve Nunn might claim mental defect at his murder trial

Attorneys file notice of possible defense in murder case

jhewlett@herald-leader.comJanuary 4, 2011 

Steve Nunn might argue that he had a mental or emotional condition when his former fiancée Amanda Ross was shot to death, paperwork filed in the case indicates.

Nunn's attorneys, Warren Scoville and Bette Niemi, notified Fayette Circuit Court last week that they intend to use expert testimony and other evidence of mental and/or emotional problems when Nunn goes on trial for murder in the Sept. 11, 2009, killing of Ross, 29, outside her home in Lexington.

Nunn, a former state lawmaker and the son of former Kentucky Gov. Louie Nunn, could receive the death penalty if he is convicted.

Nunn's attorneys and Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson could not be reached for comment Monday.

Defense attorney Mark Stanziano of Somerset, who has handled more than a dozen death penalty cases, said the notification does not necessarily mean Nunn's lawyers will introduce expert testimony and other evidence of a mental or emotional condition at trial. He said attorneys are required under Kentucky law and rules of criminal procedure to file such a notice to be allowed to put on such proof during the trial.

"They're sort of reserving the right to put on evidence that deals with their client's mental health," Stanziano said. "They can't offer it at all if they don't give notice, and that's why they're giving notice."

Stanziano said that while such notifications are fairly routine, defense attorneys don't file them on a whim because the notifications mean their clients could be subjected to examination by prosecution experts.

"Likely what you will see next is the commonwealth asking for an evaluation of the defendant," Stanziano said.

He said whether Nunn's attorneys actually plan to claim their client had a mental or emotional condition might not be made known until after jury selection begins.

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine told defense attorneys previously that they had until Dec. 31 to give notice if they intended to introduce evidence that Nunn had mental or emotional problems at the time Ross was shot. The judge gave prosecutors until Jan. 31 to have their own expert evaluate Nunn if the defense gave such a notice.

Several hearings have been scheduled before the trial, which is set to begin Aug. 1.

Nunn is being held in the Fayette County Detention Center.

Reach Jennifer Hewlett at (859) 231-3308 or 1-800-950-6397, Ext. 3308.

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