From Kentucky Public Radio’s Tony McVeigh
He’s the son of a former Kentucky governor. He grew up in the governor’s mansion, went to college, raised a family and built a successful political career of his own. But now, Steve Nunn is charged with murder.
In 1990, Republican Steve Nunn was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives, where he served for 16 years. He quickly gained a reputation as a moderate, an advocate for the poor and needy, a man of compassion and sensitivity on issues like mental illness and domestic violence. Here he is in the 2005 session, urging his colleagues to boost funding for Medicaid.
“We have to step up and have the courage in this session to do what is required of us as elected officials to meet this challenge,” said Nunn.
Throughout Nunn’s House tenure, he worked closely with Sheila Schuster of the Kentucky Mental Health Coalition.
“We considered him, from the standpoint of advocacy for people with mental illness, substance abuse disorders, mental retardation, physical handicaps, he was absolutely our go-to legislator,” said Schuster.
But in 2003, Nunn’s life began to change. Instead of successes, he began suffering a series of setbacks. He ran for governor and lost, coming in third in the Republican primary won by Ernie Fletcher. In January 2004, his father – former Gov. Louie B. Nunn – died. At services in the Capitol rotunda, Nunn called his dad “the John Wayne of Kentucky politics.”
“Always doing what he thought was right, never afraid to take a stand,” said Nunn. “His courage, conviction and leadership are the likes that are seldom seen in this Kentucky State Capitol.”
After his father’s death, Nunn plunged into a deep depression, says his second wife, Tracey Damron. The couple eventually divorced. In 2006, Nunn was defeated for re-election to the House by Democrat Johnny Bell. Nunn rebounded in 2007, when he was named an undersecretary of the Cabinet for Health and Family Services. But earlier this year, he resigned the post after being charged in a domestic violence case. Last Friday, the woman at the center of the case, 29-year old Amanda Ross, was shot dead outside her Lexington townhouse. Hours later, police found Steve Nunn at his parents’ graves in Hart County. He was brandishing a .38-caliber handgun and had slit his wrists. Arrested on six counts of wanton endangerment, Nunn was treated for his wounds and jailed. By Monday, Lexington Police Lt. Douglas Pape was being barraged with calls from reporters, wanting to know if 56-year old Nunn was the primary suspect in the murder of Amanda Ross.
“There’s no predetermined conclusion,” said Pape. “We’re investigating it diligently. I really couldn’t say where it’s going, because it will go where the investigation takes us.”
But late Monday night, with Nunn facing the possibility of bailing out of jail the next morning, Lexington Police charged him with murder and violation of a protective order. If convicted, he could face the death penalty. Nunn’s former colleagues in the House were stunned. Louisville Rep. Jim Wayne called the developments “incomprehensible.”
“I’ve known him as a tremendous, caring man who was able to work legislation very effectively here and achieved a great deal as a legislator,” said Wayne. “So, it’s a tragic day for all of us that know him as a caring man.”
In the days since the murder, family and friends of Amanda Ross have come forward to tell her story. A dog lover, who was called articulate, outgoing, smart and successful, Ross was a division director in the state Department of Insurance. She’s now buried in the Lexington cemetery. Steve Nunn awaits arraignment for her murder.