‘It has been a good career.’ Fayette Commonwealth Attorney to retire in September

Fayette County Commonwealth Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn will retire on September 30, after serving the community for 35 years.

In a letter dated Aug. 2 to Gov. Andy Beshear’s office, Red Corn writes she is resigning her position from the 22nd Judicial Circuit where she was the first Native American commonwealth’s attorney in the state, and the first female commonwealth’s attorney in Fayette County.

She was appointed to her current position in 2016 after the retirement of Ray Larson, whom she called a legend.

“I have tried to build upon the excellent reputation Ray established for this office during his 31 years as Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney. While there have been many challenges in the last six years, it is the work that benefits crime victims that is the most impactful,” she wrote in her retirement notice.

In her letter, she summarized her time as commonwealth attorney, saying in the past six years her office established a special victim’s unit including prosecutors with a passion and purpose to prosecute cases of the most vulnerable victims: children, women and the elderly.

Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn
Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney Lou Anna Red Corn

Her office also helped to pass the felony strangulation bill, signed into law in 2019. In addition, Red Corn said her office improved Crime Victims’ Rights Week by including all community partners in planning and execution of the event.

Red Corn, who has been a resident of Lexington since 1977, previously served as an assistant Fayette commonwealth’s attorney, and first assistant since 2006. Originally from Tulsa, Oklahoma, Red Corn is an active member of the Osage Nation.

In 1989, she helped establish the Fayette County Child Sexual Abuse Multi-Disciplinary Team, which remains a model for other teams statewide. Red Corn was one of the principal authors of the state’s first model protocol for child sexual abuse multi-disciplinary teams and was a co-author of the Kentucky Attorney General’s Child Sexual Abuse Manual in 2006.

Red Corn earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kentucky and then a law degree. She joined the Fayette Commonwealth’s Attorney’s Office in 1987 and has focused on cases involving child homicide, child sexual abuse and child exploitation.

One notable case involved priest Leonard Nienabor. Neinabor was convicted in 1994 on 10 counts of child abuse. The abuse happened between 1964 and 1977 and involved children ages 4 to 17. Nienabor was 87 at the time of his conviction. He was allowed to serve his sentence in a Roman Catholic treatment center.

Over the course of her career, Red Corn has tried hundreds of felony criminal cases including more than 55 homicide trials, according to her website.

One of her more recent murder convictions was Robert Markham Taylor, who was sentenced to 49 years in the brutal attack on University of Kentucky chef Alex Johnson, whose murder generated national headlines. Johnson, 32, was beaten to death, and his body was stuffed into a barrel and dropped into the Kentucky River, where it was found in January 2014.

She also successfully prosecuted Paris Charles, a handyman, who killed and dismembered Goldia Massey, his girlfriend, in 2014. Charles was sentenced to 35 years in that case.

Retired Fayette Circuit Judge Ernesto Scorsone said under Red Corn the office was more flexible which helped expedite felony cases, including supporting felony mediation, which allows prosecutors and defense attorneys time to work out possible plea deals.

“She allowed that office to evolve and be more innovative,” Scorsone said. When criminal cases languish it is hard on victims, victim’s families, the defendant and witnesses, Scorsone said.

No one questioned Red Corn’s ethics and her commitment to the job, he said.

“She also has a very good presence in the court room and was a good trial attorney,” Scorsone added.

Red Corn has received multiple awards during her three decades in public service.

In 2020 she was awarded Commonwealth’s Attorney of the Year and is the former president of the Commonwealth Attorney’s Association. In 2018 the Kentucky Association of Children’s Advocacy Centers recognized her as one of their Legendary Partners, awarding her the “Hero’s Blue Cape” for her work on behalf of children and with the Children’s Advocacy Center, which conducts forensic interviews of children who have been abused and neglected.

“The work of a prosecutor is challenging,” she wrote in her retirement notice. “Our cases involve pain, sorrow, and violence. Our satisfaction comes from the role we play in the criminal justice system — helping victims, holding offenders accountable and making our communities safe places to live. It has been a good career.”

Who will serve next?

Red Corn requested the governor appoint Kimberly Henderson Baird, the first assistant of the 22nd Judicial Circuit, to fill her vacancy.

“(Baird) is an accomplished and respected leader in the office, the judicial system, and in our community,” she said. “It goes without saying that appointing (Baird) would be historical — she would be the first African American woman to serve as Commonwealth’s Attorney in Kentucky. IT IS TIME!”

Baird has been with the office since 1996 and has been first assistant since 2016, when Red Corn became commonwealth attorney. Baird is a Lexington native and a graduate of Lafayette High School and the University of Kentucky.

First appointed in 2016, Red Corn was elected to a six-year term in 2018. Whomever is appointed to fill her position will serve the remaining years of her term.

That means there will be two new faces at the helm of the commonwealth attorney and county attorneys’ offices in coming months.

Red Corn’s announcement comes several months after long-time Fayette County Attorney Larry Roberts was defeated in the May Democratic primary by Angela Evans, a former Lexington-Fayette Urban County Councilwoman who has also served as a public defender and an assistant attorney general. Evans will be sworn in as the county attorney in January.