By RONNIE ELLIS
Steve Nunn, the former lawmaker and candidate for governor accused of the Sept. 11, 2009 murder of his former fiancée, Amanda Ross, pleaded guilty Tuesday morning in Fayette Circuit Court.
Nunn’s attorney Warren Scoville said Nunn wanted to waive formal sentencing, asking Judge Pamela Goodwine to impose sentence immediately. Goodwine asked Nunn if he understood his rights and the consequences of his guilty plea. Each time, Nunn answered, “Yes,” or “Yes ma’am.” Goodwine then sentenced him to life without parole. Nunn could have faced the death penalty had he been convicted at trial by a jury. He also pleaded guilty to violating an emergency protective order, according to his other attorney, Bette J. Niemi.
Niemi said Nunn “was satisfied with” the plea and sentence agreement, saying he wanted to protect his daughters and son from having to testify at his trial.
“As with any capital case, negotiations were begun very early and continued,” Niemi said. “Both parties have negotiated long and hard and reached agreement recently.”
Commonwealth Attorney Ray Larson was not immediately available for comment.
Nunn was accused of shooting Ross early on the morning of Sept. 11, 2009, outside her Lexington townhouse. Ross had sought and been granted an emergency protective order against Nunn, alleging he struck her during an argument that took place a couple of months earlier in her home.
Diana Ross, the mother of the victim, was in the courtroom Tuesday and had been consulted about the plea by Larson, according to Ross family friend and spokesperson Dale Emmons.
“Nothing will ever bring Amanda back,” Emmons said, but Diana Ross “feels some peace that this is over.”
Emmons said Ross is thankful for the work done by Larson and his office and to “Judge Goodwine for imposing a just sentence.” He said he was personally “a little shocked and surprised” by the plea agreement, especially after a status hearing last week at which attorneys for Nunn argued to introduce information written by Nunn about his and Amanda Ross’ personal lives and discovered in the car he was driving when apprehended the day of the murder.
“I thought after that hearing, man, this is going to be ugly,” Emmons said. But sometime after the hearing, Emmons said, defense attorneys approached Larson about entering a guilty plea. Larson then met with Diana Ross, he said, and, “Diana agreed to it.”
When Nunn’s attorneys indicated he wanted to enter his guilty plea and have sentencing imposed Tuesday, Larson objected because he wanted the Ross family to be able to enter a victim-impact statement. But Emmons said Larson conferred briefly with Diana Ross, who agreed to allow the plea and sentence to take place Tuesday.
Emmons praised Larson’s and his staff’s handling of the case.
“Ray Larson’s office did a first-class job of dealing with the family,” Emmons said.
Emmons said he had known Nunn for years and “always considered Steve a friend until Amanda’s murder.” He called the crime “unthinkable.”
Amanda Ross, 29, was found shot multiple times in the parking lot of her Lexington townhouse on Friday morning, Sept. 11, 2009. She died a short time later at a Lexington hospital.
Authorities immediately began searching for Nunn. After tracking his movements through his cell phone, Kentucky State Police and officers with the Barren County Sheriff’s Department found Nunn, bleeding from self-inflicted cuts on his wrists, in the small country cemetery in Hart County where his parents, former Gov. Louie B. Nunn and Beula Nunn, are buried. He was transported by ambulance to The Medical Center in Bowling Green and charged with murder the following week.
Nunn was a long-time Republican legislator known for advocating for the interests of the less fortunate. He ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for governor in the 2003 primary. He was defeated in his 2006 re-election bid for his state House seat and was later named Deputy Secretary of the Health and Family Services Cabinet by Gov. Steve Beshear, who he endorsed in the 2007 election. He resigned that position after news accounts of the DVO obtained by Amanda Ross. Friends and associates of Nunn, interviewed in the aftermath of Amanda Ross’ death, said Nunn’s life began to unravel at that point and he blamed her for his problems.
Ronnie Ellis writes for CNHI News Service and is based in Frankfort. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow CNHI News Service stories on Twitter at www.twitter.com/cnhifrankfort.