Police may continue a search of a hard drive belonging to murder defendant and former state lawmaker Steve Nunn, Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine ruled Tuesday.
While investigating the Sept. 11, 2009, shooting death of Amanda Ross, 29, of Lexington, police had begun a forensic examination of the external hard drive, but they stopped when they came across an image they considered to be child pornography, according to court records. Prosecutors, who maintained that no search warrant was needed for the hard drive examination, asked for a court order to continue the forensic examination. Prosecutors said they made the request "in an abundance of caution" because evidence of child pornography that might not be related to the murder case had been found on the hard drive. Later, in a hearing, a detective testified the image found on the hard drive was that of a 10- to 12-year-old female.
Defense attorneys had asked that evidence already discovered on the hard drive be suppressed, but the judge overruled the motion on Tuesday. However, Goodwine said evidence obtained as a result of the forensic examination of the hard drive may be the subject of future motions.
The hard drive was in a box that also was found to contain letters and nude photos of Ross and other women, according to court records and testimony.
On the evening of Sept. 10, Nunn had given the box to a friend to keep for him. The friend, Johnny Hutchison, turned it over to police after hearing about Ross's shooting, according to court records and testimony.
Defense attorneys had argued that police violated Nunn's rights under the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, when they conducted the initial search of the hard drive. Prosecutors said Nunn had no expectation of privacy concerning the box and its contents and that the initial search of the hard drive did not violate his constitutional rights.
Goodwine, in Tuesday's ruling, said the court found that Nunn had abandoned the property in question. Her ruling said "there is probable cause to believe that the external hard drive contains evidence of a crime."
Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty for Nunn in the death of Ross, his former fiancée. Nunn, the son of former Kentucky Gov. Louie B. Nunn, is being held in the Fayette County jail.
Goodwine's ruling was one of three filed on Tuesday. She also overruled defense motions to suppress evidence seized from Nunn's Glasgow home and evidence seized from a Honda Accord belonging to one of his daughters, which was parked in the Cosby Cemetery in Hart County, where police found Nunn hours after the Ross shooting.
Defense attorneys said a search warrant for Nunn's home was invalid because an affidavit made to obtain that warrant lacked particularity.
They maintained that the search warrant for a vehicle Nunn was driving was invalid because an affidavit for the warrant contained incorrect information. The affidavit, according to court records, stated that state police had observed a holster and what appeared to be blood inside the vehicle. A Lexington police detective testified later that this information was in error and based on miscommunication.
Goodwine said in her ruling there was no deliberate attempt to mislead the court that issued the warrant, and the statement in the affidavit about the holster and blood was not a recklessly false statement. She also said police had probable cause to search the car without a search warrant.
"We are pleased with the judge's rulings, and we look forward to moving ahead with this case," Fayette Commonwealth's Attorney Ray Larson said.
A call to defense attorney Warren Scoville was not returned.
Goodwine said in one of Tuesday's rulings that a scheduling order setting pre-trial and discovery deadlines in the case, as well as an anticipated trial date, will be issued on or before Oct. 8.