Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

June 13, 2010

Hearing set on contents of box

Associated Press
Associated Press

LEXINGTON — A judge has set a July hearing to determine whether an external hard drive belonging to a former lawmaker charged with murder can be searched.

Police had begun examining the contents of the hard drive belonging to Steve Nunn after the Sept. 11 shooting death of Amanda Ross of Lexington, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported Friday.

The 29-year-old Ross was Nunn’s former fiancee. Nunn, 57, the son of a former Kentucky governor, is being held in the Fayette County Jail and faces the death penalty in the woman’s shooting death outside her apartment.

Court documents unsealed Wednesday in Fayette Circuit Court revealed police stopped examining the hard drive when they came across an image of what appeared to them to be child pornography.   

The external hard drive was found in a box that Nunn had asked his friend Johnny Hutchison of Barren County to hide for him the night before the killing, according to court records.

On the morning of the fatal shooting, Hutchison called the Barren County sheriff about the box on the advice of his attorney, Bobby Richardson, according to court records. Several hours later, Sheriff Chris Eaton picked up the box, as well as a vase or jar, that Nunn had given Hutchison for safekeeping, according to court records.

A commonwealth’s attorney’s office’s motion for a court order to search the external hard drive and the defense’s response to that motion, both of which were filed in April, had been sealed until this week.

Fayette Circuit Judge Pamela Goodwine unsealed those documents this week when she set the July 8 hearing date for the motion.

The commonwealth’s attorney’s office maintains no warrant was needed for the police search of the hard drive because Nunn had voluntarily relinquished control of the box and its contents to Hutchison, who, in turn, had voluntarily relinquished control of the items to Eaton. Prosecutors said they were asking for the court order “in an abundance of caution” because possible evidence of child pornography that might not be related to the Ross killing had been found on the hard drive.

“The motion speaks for itself, and beyond that, it really would be inappropriate to make any additional comments,” Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Ray Larson said Thursday.

Attorneys for Nunn have argued in their response to the prosecution’s request that police had no legal right to begin the forensic investigation of the hard drive. They also said that Lexington police and Eaton — who opened the taped-shut box before giving it to Lexington police — had no right to search it.

The defense attorneys maintain that Nunn had an expectation of privacy when it came to the box and its contents, and that Hutchison, who has described himself as Nunn’s best friend, had no authority to consent to a police search of the items.

The defense attorneys, who said Nunn’s constitutional rights have been violated, are asking the court to deny the prosecution’s request for a court order. They also have asked the court not to allow items that were in the box to be introduced as evidence in the case.

Bette Niemi, one of Nunn’s attorneys, declined to comment Thursday.