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Ex-governor's son emerges as murder suspect

Steve Nunn said nothing in court. His glum, unshaven face spoke volumes.
Former Lawmaker Murder Charge
Former State Rep. Steve Nunn speaks during a forum in Louisville, Ky., in this Jan. 24, 2003 file photo. Nunn is being held in Fayette County jail on a murder charge for allegedly gunning down his ex-girlfriend. Ed Reinke / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Steve Nunn said nothing in court. His glum, unshaven face spoke volumes.

The politician who had lived a life of privilege hobnobbing with Kentucky's political elite wasn't at all pleased with the Fayette County jail where he is being held on a murder charge for allegedly gunning down his ex-girlfriend.

Nunn, heir to one of the most famous names in Kentucky politics, wore a drab prison jumpsuit and a frown as his lawyer entered a not guilty plea on his behalf and asked for his release on bond.

Judge Joseph Bouvier swiftly denied the request, leaving the man who spent his teenage years in the governor's mansion alongside his father, former Gov. Louie Nunn, under constant guard in a tiny cell for inmates deemed at risk of suicide.

Despite some 15 years in the state legislature and an unsuccessful run for governor, Nunn had never been able to escape the long shadow of his father who he once called "the John Wayne of Kentucky politics."

Until now. Nunn has been front page news in Kentucky since the Sept. 11 murder. His every move garners headlines, every fresh detail a new story.

In public, he was known as a compassionate politician with a warm smile and a zeal to help the disadvantaged. But evidence of a very different Steve Nunn has surfaced since Sept. 11, when Amanda Ross was shot to death outside her Lexington town house.

Public records show he may also have been prone to domestic attacks against his ex-girlfriend and even his own elderly father, who died in 2004 at age 79.

In the wake of the murder charge, Nunn's attorney is asking for a psychological exam.

Screams and gunshots
Neighbors were awakened the morning of Sept. 11 by screams and gunshots. They saw the figure of a man in the pre-dawn darkness running away from the scene. Considering his previous domestic troubles, Lexington police put out an all-points bulletin looking for Nunn.

His photo was distributed to security personnel at the state Capitol and other government buildings, including the Cabinet for Health and Family Services where he had worked as deputy secretary until he was forced to resign in the aftermath of a domestic violence charge.

Later that morning they found Nunn at his family's cemetery, weak and bleeding from self-inflicted wrist wounds. After a weekend in a Bowling Green hospital, Nunn was jailed first on charges of wanton endangerment for allegedly firing a gun in the vicinity of responding police and later on charges of murder.

Investigators pieced together disturbing details leading up to the day of the shooting, like the stop he made the day before at a monument company to ask that his gravestone be engraved with his date of death: Sept. 11.

Friends and family members of Nunn and Ross struggle to explain what happened to Nunn in recent years.

‘He's going to kill me’
Ross, who was director of financial standards and examination at the Kentucky Department of Insurance, had expressed concerns about Nunn to co-workers, including Insurance Commissioner Sharon Clark. Clark recalled a chance encounter between Ross and Nunn in the parking lot of a Frankfort store on Sept. 9 that left Ross shaken.

"She was crying," Clark said. "She was shaking. She was obviously very stressed." Clark said she allowed Ross to go home early on the day of the encounter, and called her later to see how she was doing. Clark said Ross told her: "'Sharon, he's going to kill me.'"

Nunn's ex-wife, Tracey Damron of Pikeville, said the longtime state lawmaker began to change after the death of his father. She said Nunn seemed to sink into depression.

"He was just so cold, so distant, so not Steve," Damron said. "Something dark happened to Steve; I know that for sure."

Larry Forgy, a GOP stalwart in Kentucky who has known Nunn for more than 40 years, chafes at claims that the death of the elder Nunn somehow changed the younger.

"We've all lost our fathers, or, if you haven't, you will," Forgy said. "That event doesn't alter the rest of your life. The fact is this is not just insanity. It's idiocy."

Father claimed son attacked him
A letter filed away in a dusty old court file in Metcalfe County suggests the father and son didn't have the best of relationships. Louie Nunn warned his son in the undated letter that he must stop physically abusing him and other family members or face prosecution and public embarrassment. The letter was an exhibit in the 1994 divorce case of Louie Nunn and his wife, Beula.

"The mental anguish with you physically attacking me is more than I need," Louie Nunn wrote. "Therefore, I respectfully request you never attack me physically again. Neither do I intend to take any more verbal abuse from you."

Louie Nunn urged his son to destroy the letter after reading it.

"I would not want anyone else to know I had been physically hurt and abused by you," he said.

He signed the letter "With love, hurt and deep sadness thru tears, your father."

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