Former state lawmaker Steve Nunn will appeal a Fayette County judge’s refusal to throw out his guilty plea and life sentence in the shooting death of onetime fiancée Amanda Ross, one of his attorney’s said Monday.
Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine rejected Nunn’s requests to withdraw his guilty plea in a ruling she filed with the court earlier Monday.
Nunn, 62, argued his guilty plea should be overturned because he received ineffective legal advice. He contended that his lawyer, Warren Scoville of London, didn’t fully explain the effects of his plea. Goodwine, however, ruled that Nunn entered the guilty plea of his own accord.
“Thus, having found that Nunn’s guilty plea was freely, willingly, knowingly and voluntarily entered, and no sufficient basis being presented to this court to set it aside, Nunn’s motion to vacate sentence ... is overruled,” the judge said in her 17-page opinion filed Monday in the court clerk’s office.
Krista Dolan, one of two public defenders representing Nunn, confirmed Monday afternoon that they planned to appeal Goodwine’s ruling to the Kentucky Court of Appeals.
Nunn, the son of former Gov. Louie B. Nunn, pleaded guilty to first-degree murder in June 2011. Ross was killed Sept. 11, 2009.
Nunn was sentenced to life without parole. If the case had gone to trial, prosecutors had planned to seek the death penalty.
Nunn filed the challenge of his guilty plea in October 2013.
He claimed he switched his plea to guilty because he understood that if he did so, the Ross family would drop a wrongful-death civil lawsuit that they had filed against him. But the civil lawsuit was never dismissed, and Nunn ultimately was found liable for $24 million in damages.
In a hearing last fall, Nunn blamed Scoville. Nunn said he never would have pleaded guilty if he had known the civil suit would remain in effect.
Goodwine systematically dismissed Nunn’s arguments in her ruling.
The judge noted that Nunn had stated he wanted to enter the guilty plea to spare his own daughters and Amanda Ross’s mother, Diana Ross, the emotional turmoil of a trial. He even said he would have pleaded guilty to the death penalty, Goodwine said.
She also dismissed as “without merit” Nunn’s argument that Scoville had a conflict of interest because his firm was a party in the civil suit while he also was listed as counsel of record in the suit.
Scoville’s law firm was a defendant from December 2009 to February 2010 in the Ross family’s civil suit against Nunn, Goodwine said, but there was no discussion between Nunn and Scoville about a possible plea during that time.
Goodwine wrote that Nunn’s own testimony indicated he didn’t tell Scoville’s paralegal, Angie Tyree, about his desire to plead guilty until more than a year later, in May 2011.
The judge also focused on the question of whether a promise was made that the Ross family would dismiss its civil suit if Nunn pleaded guilty. There was conflicting testimony on the question during a hearing in October.
Scoville said there was a verbal agreement that the civil suit would be dropped. But attorney Burl McCoy, who represented the Ross family in the suit, insisted there was no such deal.
In Monday’s ruling, Goodwine said she could find no mention in the civil suit record that Nunn thought the lawsuit “was going to be dismissed once he entered his guilty plea.”
“In Nunn’s mind, dismissing the civil suits had nothing to do with punishment,” Goodwine wrote. “The civil action was filed before Nunn was even indicted on the murder charges. Nunn’s underlying reason ... were to spare his daughters and Mrs. Ross the emotional trauma of what would have likely been a rather sensationalized trial despite efforts to prevent same.”