For the last few days, we’ve all been transfixed by the tawdry spectacle out of California, in which a married Republican family values crusader has gotten his comeuppance after being exposed — with the aid of a hot mic — as a repulsive sexual braggard.
But a very different story about the personal life of a state-level Republican politician has been playing out today down in Kentucky — one that’s far stranger and more tragic. Indeed, with its themes of love, death, violence, and bourbon, and its suggestion of a son struggling to live up to the accomplishments of his father, it’s almost a modern-day Southern Gothic.
Steve Nunn, a former Kentucky GOP lawmaker and gubernatorial candidate was found by police this afternoon with slit wrists in the cemetery where his parents lie buried. Hours earlier, Nunn’s former fiancée had been found shot to death in a Lexington parking lot.
According to the local sheriff, Nunn, 57, placed mementos on his parents’ graves, moved several feet away, then cut his wrists. The sheriff, Chris Eaton, said Nunn had initially told police he had shot himself, and was found in possession of a handgun, but had no gunshot wound. Nunn was taken via ambulance to the hospital.
Nunn’s former fiancée, Amanda Ross, was found dead this morning. A neighbor told reporters she heard five shots and screams at 6:11 a.m. in a courtyard outside Ross’s condominium. Ross was 29 and worked for the state’s Department of Insurance. A police spokesman said investigators have leads.
Nunn was arrested after being taken to the hospital, for allegedly violating a protective order against Ross, by carrying the handgun. Eaton, who said he’s been a friend of Nunn for around 20 years, said Nunn’s mood was “solemn to a point” and “at that time didn’t make any comments” about Ross’s shooting.
Nunn is the son of Louie Nunn, the state’s last GOP governor, from 1967 to 1971, until Ernie Fletcher was elected in 2003. Steve Nunn — who spent what he has called his “formative years” in the governor’s mansion — received just 13 percent of the vote running against Fletcher in the gubernatorial primary that year. He is also a former state legislator.
Nunn and Ross had a deeply troubled relationship. Court documents and testimony show that they started dating in September 2007, and he moved in with her in March 2008. He moved out that October, shortly after they were engaged, because, according to him, the “relationship had deteriorated.”
But they stayed in contact, and in February he was at her home for dinner. That night, Ross later charged in a domestic violence complaint, he struck her four times in the face, threw her against a hallway lamp, breaking it, then threw a cup of bourbon in her face. Nunn said Ross had blocked his path to prevent him from leaving her apartment. According to the Lexington-Herald Leader, “Nunn said Ross offered to let him leave if he let her strike him in the face. She did so, cutting his face with her ring, he said.”
An order of protection was placed on Nunn, ordering him to have no contact with Ross for a year. Nunn was placed on administrative leave from his job as deputy secretary of the state’s health and human services department, and resigned soon after.
In July, a judge found Nunn in contempt of the protection order, after Ross alleged that Nunn had published “tampered photographs” of her. The following month, attorneys for Nunn and Ross came to an agreement requiring Nunn to return all of his pictures of Ross and to try to destroy photos of her that he had given to a third party.
In a statement, Kentucky governor Steve Beshear called Ross’s death “an indescribable tragedy.”
A young life lost so soon is always heartbreaking. My thoughts and prayers are with the family of Amanda Ross and all others affected by this tragedy.
Late Update: The Herald-Leader now adds:
Police have not charged Nunn, Kentucky State Police Trooper Charles Sweeney said. Police officers will question Nunn upon his release.
Lexington police Lt. Doug Pape said Nunn is “a guy we want to talk to” in reference to the fatal shooting of his former fiancée, Amanda Ross.