Was the accused killer of a 6-year-old Versailles boy insane or was his erratic behavior self-induced because he took synthetic drugs?
That’s what a Fayette County jury must decide in the trial of Ronald Exantus, 34, who could face execution if he is found guilty in the death of Logan James Dean Tipton.
Jury selection in the four-week trial is scheduled to start Monday in Lexington. The trial was moved from Versailles to Fayette County because of pretrial publicity.
It’s unclear whether evidence will provide satisfactory answers about why Exantus, a dialysis nurse with no prior criminal or psychiatric history, drove from Indianapolis to Versailles, entered the unlocked Tipton household before dawn, and stabbed the kindergartner in the head while the boy was in bed on Dec. 7, 2015.
“This may be the most complex case that defense counsel has ever handled,” public defender Kim Green wrote in one pretrial motion.
In the days leading up to the death, those close to Exantus described his behavior as “erratic and uncharacteristic,” according to court records. He was barely eating or sleeping.
Mental health experts for the defense and prosecution examined Exantus after his arrest and both agreed that he was psychotic at the time of the burglary and stabbing, according to court records.
The defense will argue that Exantus was insane. That means the burden of proof is upon the Exantus defense team to prove his insanity by a preponderance of the evidence.
Upon his admission to a state corrections psychiatric center, Exantus reported hearing voices spoken in the Creole language of his Haitian parents. The voices did not command him to do things but spoke negatively about him, an expert testified at a pretrial hearing.
A judge ruled in November 2016 that Exantus is competent to stand trial, based on an assessment that he understands the consequences he faces and is able to rationally assist in his defense.
The prosecution intends to call a toxicologist who will say the erratic behavior exhibited by Exantus is consistent with a person who ingested synthetic marijuana, bath salts or some other “disassociative drug,” according to court records.
Green, the public defender, has written that there is “no supporting evidence” that Exantus ingested any synthetic substance.
The prosecution has said it is up to the jury to decide whether Exantus was, in fact, psychotic, and whether his psychosis was such that he could not act knowingly. If Exantus acted knowingly, that would torpedo the insanity defense.
In addition to murder, Exantus is also charged with first-degree burglary, two counts of second-degree assault and one count of misdemeanor assault. Logan’s father fought with Exantus before subduing him and a couple of Logan’s siblings had cuts and scratches from the attack.
If he is found guilty of murder, Exantus will face a range of penalties aside from death, including 20 to 50 years in prison, life without the possibility of parole, and life without the possibility of parole for 25 years.
Jury selection is expected to take up the first four days of the trial. It’s anticipated that testimony will begin the first week in March. Testimony will not be heard on Fridays, when Fayette courts have other matters pending.
Special Judge Phil Patton, a retired circuit judge in Barren and Metcalfe counties, will preside over the trial.
Patton had previously ruled in January that 500 potential jurors will be summoned prior to selection. That number will be gradually whittled down after questioning from the defense and prosecution.
During individual questioning, potential jurors will be asked about their views on the death penalty, race and mental illness. They will also be asked about what they heard about the case through pretrial publicity.