"Aggravated penalties," including the death penalty, should not be considered as possible punishment in the murder case against Steve Nunn, says Bette Niemi, one of Nunn's attorneys.
The attorney, in a document filed recently in Fayette Circuit Court, says Kentucky laws that prosecutors are relying on to support their argument for the death penalty are vague and unconstitutional.
One of those laws pertains to someone being murdered when an emergency protective order or domestic violence order is in effect. Prosecutors alleged Nunn killed his former fiancée, Amanda Ross, 29, while a domestic violence order involving the two was in effect, which constitutes an aggravating circumstance under which the death penalty should be considered.
Niemi says there is no meaningful standard of proof for the issuance of a domestic violence order in Kentucky and the definition of individuals to be protected in a DVO is unclear. And she says Kentucky law fails to provide for any consideration of the effect an improperly entered DVO might have on an alleged perpetrator. Niemi says the evidence introduced at a March 2009 DVO hearing involving Nunn and Ross did not support a finding that any act of domestic violence had occurred between the two. The DVO that was issued is invalid, unenforceable and does not support the claim of an aggravating circumstance, Niemi maintains.
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Prosecutors, in another document filed with the court, maintain that the law is clear and that violation of a court order is a valid aggravating circumstance. They said that, according to a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling in another case, the challenging of a DVO must be done before the DVO is violated or used as an aggravating circumstance.
"A valid domestic violence order and a 'no contact' order were entered to protect Amanda Ross from the defendant. The defendant is charged with the murder of Amanda Ross, in clear violation of the Fayette court orders and the laws of the commonwealth," prosecutors said.
Nunn is accused of shooting Ross outside her home on Sept. 11. Court documents indicate the two had a tumultuous relationship since 2007. Police were called to the Ross home on several occasions. In October 2008, Nunn called police to the residence because he said Ross refused to allow him to leave. In January 2009, Ross called police and told the responding officers Nunn wanted to leave but she wouldn't let him, Niemi says. After the January 2009 incident Ross was advised to seek an emergency protective order or file a complaint in district court, but she did not do so, according to prosecutors.
In February 2009, police were called to the Ross home after Ross and Nunn had a fight in which the two allegedly exchanged blows. Ross filed a petition in Fayette District Court claiming she was the victim of domestic violence. An emergency protective order was issued, and Nunn was charged with assault and criminal mischief. A judge issued a domestic violence order with the condition that Nunn have no contact with Ross for a year.
There have been a flurry of document filings in Fayette Circuit Court as prosecution and defense attorneys argue the finer points of law in the Nunn case. A hearing on some of the issues will be held Aug. 19.
Late last week, the commonwealth's attorney's office filed responses to several motions made by the defense to suppress or exclude evidence.
Prosecutors said the gathering of evidence and information, or discovery, in the case was not finished. They noted that orders had been entered allowing Nunn to be examined by his own mental health expert, but Nunn had not given notice that he would be relying on mental disease or defect in his defense. Earlier this year, Nunn underwent court-ordered psychiatric testing and was found competent to stand trial.
Prosecutors, in one court document, argued against a defense motion to suppress Nunn's statement to police after the killing, saying Nunn fully understood his rights when he talked to police.
Prosecutors also argued against a motion to exclude evidence about Nunn's relationship with his former wife, Martha Lu Nunn, saying that, according to a witness, Steve Nunn was as mad at Martha Lu Nunn as he was Amanda Ross.
The witness said that Nunn had made statements that both women destroyed his life, prosecutors said.
In response to a defense motion to exclude evidence concerning the relationship between Nunn and his father, former Kentucky Gov. Louie Nunn, prosecutors said that they do not anticipate introducing evidence of that nature.
Louie Nunn and Steve Nunn had a falling-out during the divorce between Louie and Beula Nunn in 1994.
Louie Nunn, in a letter filed with divorce documents, accused his son of attacking him.