Steve Nunn

Judge's ruling keeps death penalty as a possibility in Nunn case

Steve Nunn, shown at a court hearing in August 2010, pleaded guilty to murder in the 2009 death of his former fiancée.
Steve Nunn, shown at a court hearing in August 2010, pleaded guilty to murder in the 2009 death of his former fiancée.

The death penalty will remain as a possible punishment for murder defendant Steve Nunn, should he be convicted of killing his ex-fiancée Amanda Ross.

On Thursday, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine denied a defense motion that aggravated penalties, including the death penalty, not be considered in the case. Defense attorney Bette Niemi had said in her motion that the Kentucky laws prosecutors are relying on to support the death penalty in the case are vague and unconstitutional.

Goodwine said Thursday that the argument was without merit and that Kentucky law is very specific in spelling out "aggravators."

Nunn is accused of fatally shooting Ross, 29, outside her downtown Lexington home on Sept. 11. A domestic violence order, which Ross had sought, and a no-contact order were in effect to protect Ross from Nunn — an aggravating circumstance, according to prosecutors.

Niemi said in her motion that there is no meaningful standard of proof for the issuance of a domestic violence order in Kentucky and that the definition of individuals to be protected in a DVO is unclear.

Goodwine said challenging DVO law needed to be done in the state legislature, not in court.

Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Kathy Phillips said the point of the matter is that a violation of a court order occurred when Ross was killed.

Goodwine did not rule on several other defense and prosecution motions during Thursday's hearing, which lasted about five hours and included testimony from several police officers and a woman who had worked with Nunn in the state Cabinet for Health and Family Services.

The judge said that several defense motions arguing against allowing statements by certain individuals as evidence at trial were premature and that the court was holding those motions in abeyance until a trial date is set.

Much of Thursday's testimony centered on the actions and state of mind of Nunn, a former Kentucky lawmaker, just before and after Ross was shot.

Niemi, who has asked the judge to suppress Nunn's statement to police after Ross was killed, and Kentucky State Police Detective Sgt. Todd Combs had exchanges over whether and how Nunn invoked his constitutional rights after being advised of them by police.

Combs had questioned Nunn during a 41-minute conversation at a Bowling Green hospital after Nunn had been advised of his rights, including the right to remain silent, according to testimony Thursday.

Combs said another officer told him that Nunn had said he didn't want to talk after he was advised of his rights, but Combs said that Nunn kept on talking and never asked for an attorney.

Had Nunn asked for an attorney, the conversation would have been over, Combs said.

Recordings of Nunn being advised of his rights and his conversation with Combs were played for the judge.

On the latter recording, Nunn could be heard joking with others at the hospital.

Nunn also could be heard saying he'd lost his job and indicating that Ross had caused it. He also said on the recording that he wanted a jury to hear the truth behind the issuance of the domestic violence order.

"I tried to end my misery today and was unsuccessful," Nunn told Combs on the recording.

Several hours after Ross was slain, authorities found Nunn with his wrists slit at the Hart County cemetery where his parents, former Kentucky Gov. Louie Nunn and Buela Nunn, are buried.

"I just wanted to go and seek my mother and father's forgiveness," Steve Nunn said to Combs. "I've tarnished their name."

But Nunn did not admit to killing Ross.

Among the spectators at Thursday's hearing were representatives of the television shows 48 Hours and 20/20.

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