Revenge for Real: How Did a Promising Legislator Become a Killer?

PHOTO: Friends said Steve Nunn and Amanda Ross had a volatile romance.PlayABC News
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He was a governor's son, a legislator, a crusader, a womanizer, a boozehound, a stalker and, finally, a murderer.

In 2009, Steve Nunn, a former Kentucky state representative and the son of former Kentucky Governor Louie Nunn, killed his ex-fiancee, Amanda Ross. In the ultimate ironic twist, prosecutors threatened Nunn with the death penalty on the strength of a domestic violence bill Nunn himself spearheaded during his time in elected office.

Nunn "had it all," said Nunn's attorney, Warren Scoville, "(and) he lost it all."

Nunn was barely 15 when his father won the race for governor of Kentucky.

The year was 1967 and photos show Nunn excitedly celebrating his father's victory with his sister and mother.

He was "someone who wanted to please his father, who wanted to follow in his father's footsteps," said Al Cross, who covered politics for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky.

Cross said Gov. Nunn, in turn, expected much from his son -- too much. Others agree.

"If you were going design your father, you would not design Louie Nunn," said Larry Forgy, who was Gov. Nunn's budget director. Forgy said he hated how the governor treated his son.

"Louie Nunn was a man of ridicule. And I think Steve Nunn, unfortunately, grew up in ridicule," he said.

PHOTOS: Steve Nunn and Amanda Ross

As his father's career soared, Steve Nunn moved easily through the genteel circles of Kentucky society. Like is father, he attended law school. Unlike his father, he dropped out. He married and had three children. In 1990, he was elected to the Kentucky House of Representatives.

Nunn was a Republican like his father but, despite the elder Nunn's looming shadow, Steve Nunn developed his own identity as a relative liberal and a crusader for women, children and the disadvantaged.

His father Louie Nunn was not impressed.

"You could tell that Steve never quite measured up in Louie's eyes. And he knew it," Cross said.

Whatever their political differences, the father and son had at least one thing in common: both had a wandering eye. Louie Nunn was widely believed to be unfaithful to his wife, while Steve Nunn's appetite for women seemed to surpass his father's.

"People just said, 'Well, yeah, that's Steve being Steve.' Or, in some ways they may have said, 'That's Steve being Louie,'" Cross said.

Meanwhile, behind the gates of the Nunn family estate, things were getting ugly. In 1994, Louie Nunn's wife Beula filed for divorce, and wound up getting a restraining order against the former governor. Things deteriorated further after an incident that allegedly turned violent.

"Steve had spun to the protection of his mother when he thought she was going to be physically abused by his father during a family argument. And apparently he attacked the governor," said long-time news anchor and talk show host Sue Wylie.

The elderly Nunn fired back: In a handwritten letter, the former governor accused Steve Nunn of physically abusing him.

The father and son stopped speaking; when Steve Nunn -- who was divorced his first wife in 1992 -- married for a second time in 1996, Gov. Nunn was nowhere to be seen.

His new wife, Tracey Damron, was the bubbly, beautiful daughter of a Kentucky coal magnate. A former flight attendant, Damron easily adapted to the life of a political wife, attending Derby Day parties, fundraisers and society balls.

Damron said the man she married loved "to sing and dance and love and have fun and joy life. And he would always tell me... 'Enjoy this moment...Life is so fleeting."

Steve Nunn: 'He Was a Humanitarian'

With his new bride at his side, Nunn found his signature cause: protecting victims of domestic abuse. In 1998, he co-sponsored legislation that made it a death penalty offense when a person named in a domestic violence order murders the protected individual.

"He was a humanitarian. And everyone knew that," Damron said.

In 2002, Damron helped arrange what should have been the final piece in the puzzle for her husband's success: a reconciliation with his father.

"They were literally hugging and kissing," she said. "I remember sitting back and watching it and saying, 'I have witnessed a miracle from God.'"

By then, Nunn was ready to take the biggest gamble of his political career: in 2003, he campaigned to be the Republican nominee for the Kentucky governorship.

But the repaired father-son relationship didn't translate into a primary election victory. Nunn lost badly, garnering just 13 percent of the vote.

Early the following year, Nunn suffered an even more crushing loss: Louie Nunn died in January, 2004. His father's death left Steve Nunn grappling with an identity crisis.

"Steve's whole identity as a human being was, 'I'm Louie Nunn's son,'" Damron said.

Nunn's vices began to take control: he was consuming Kentucky bourbon with abandon and cruising for sex on websites like

"I literally went to bed one night with this beautiful, wonderful marriage of ten years...and I literally wake up to a nightmare," Damron said.

Nunn's problems took a heavy professional toll: In 2006, he lost his seat in the state legislature to a relative unknown. The defeat, said Forgy, was a critique of "Steve's conduct in his home county."

"It was a referendum on the way he was acting," Forgy said.

After the apparent demise of his political career, his marriage was next. Nunn and Tracey Damron divorced in 2006.

"He says, 'Tracey, get away from me. I don't want to hurt you. And all I do is hurt you,'" Damron said

Just when it seemed Nunn had hit rock bottom, in 2007 he had a third chance at love.

Like Nunn, Amanda Ross was the daughter of a politically powerful, recently-deceased father -- Terrell Ross, a public financier.

Ross, who was in her late 20s, was intent on making a career in politics. That's part of what drew her to Nunn, those who knew her said.

After a few months of dating, Nunn moved into Ross' Lexington apartment and the couple became the talk of the town.

"She went to the Governor's Ball with him. And then the next day she was on ...the front page of The Courier-Journal in this dress with Steve Nunn," remembered Ross's friend, Alex Redgefield. "She was really happy."

The couple got engaged on Ross's birthday in 2008.

It wasn't just Nunn's love life that was on the upswing: After crossing party lines to endorse Democrat Steve Beshear for governor, he was rewarded with an appointment as deputy secretary of the state's Department of Health and Family Services, overseeing social welfare programs, including those dealing with spousal abuse.

"He had finally come back to the point that he was relevant again," Cross said.

Ross, meanwhile, landed a job at the Kentucky State Department of Insurance.

But life was far from perfect for the couple. Nunn's attorney, Warren Scoville, said both Nunn and Ross "abused substances."

"When you take a couple and they get jealous, they're not themselves, and the relationship becomes volatile," he said.

That volatility manifested itself in incidents like one at a restaurant.

The Fall of Steve Nunn: Alcohol, Sex and Revenge

"He called her a bitch and she got up and dumped the glass of water in his lap and walked out," Ross' friend, Penny Bentley remembered.

Another time, Ross suspected Nunn of cheating on her.

Ross "had his phone, his Blackberry, and was going through it...He wouldn't give her the she threw (it) in the river," Bentley said.

The relationship reached the point of no return on Feb. 17, 2009 with what began as a small fight that soon escalated.

"She said something about she wanted to go out the next night and get some chicken wings and he said, 'Well, I'm not real sure,' so they got into an argument about it," Bentley said. "She told me he got up to leave and she ran downstairs and blocked the door."

Bentley said Ross told her that Nunn pushed and hit her and that she hit him too, cutting his face with her ring.

Ross filed an emergency protection order. Two weeks after the fight, a judge ruled that Nunn did hit Ross and granted a restraining order, requiring that Nunn have no contact with Ross for a year.

Within 48 hours of the ruling, Nunn tendered his resignation from the Department of Health and Family Services.

"Beshear could not afford to have an avowed abuser as the no. 2 man in the cabinet that oversaw child and spouse abuse," Forgy said. "What (Nunn) had achieved in coming back was now splattered in the road."

Bentley said Nunn snapped, indulging once again in alcohol and cheap sex. But it got worse: Nunn was also obsessed with revenge. He wanted to get even with Ross, whom he blamed for destroying his career by filing for an emergency protective order.

"To him, it was she ruined his life, and... somebody had to pay," Bentley said.

Police who later investigated Nunn said he tried to get back at his ex-fiancee first by showing his friends nude pictures he had taken of her. Then, Ross's friends said, Nunn began stalking her.

"She would be in her family room and he would be outside on her patio, looking in her window," Redgefield said.

Nunn's obsession ultimately turned fatal.

On Sept. 11, 2009, as Ross was leaving her apartment for work, she was shot dead. There were no eyewitnesses to the murder, but thanks to her protection order against Nunn, police had a suspect.

Nunn was apprehended the same day and later charged with Ross' murder. In a deal to avoid the death penalty -- a punishment required by the domestic violence law Nunn championed years ago -- Nunn pleaded guilty in exchange for a sentence of life without parole.

"He will have to wake up every morning and think about what he did to Amanda and her family and what he did to his family," said Ross' mother, Diana Ross.

Learn more about Nunn's story -- including alleged suicide plans and a short standoff with police at his parents' grave site -- by watching the full episode of "Revenge for Real," a "20/20" special.