(Updated story with father and sister's complete testimony can be found at this link.)
A sister of slain 6-year-old Logan Tipton woke up to see a man with a butcher knife in one hand and a butter knife in the other, said prosecutor Keith Eardley in his opening statement Monday in the murder trial of an Indianapolis nurse.
When Koral Tipton confronted the intruder, Exantus ran the butter knife up from her stomach to her nose, said Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Eardley.
(Updates from testimony reported in Tweets below)
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Later, as her father struggled with the man, Koral told the 911 dispatcher a man was in her Versailles bedroom. “Daddy’s upstairs telling him to stop,” Koral said in a recording jurors heard.
The man, prosecutors say, was Ronald Exantus, 34, who could face the death penalty if he is found guilty of murder in Logan’s death.
The trial was moved from Woodford to Fayette County, where jurors were seated Monday before the prosecution and defense gave their opening remarks.
Exantus, a 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.
The defense does not dispute that Exantus stabbed Tipton to death. So why hold a trial?
Under the law, two elements must be present to prove murder: First, there must be an act and second, there must be a culpable mindset.
The defense argues that there was no culpable mindset because a mental illness prevented Exantus from conforming his behavior to the law. The defense will ask that Exantus be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
“The Commonwealth is looking for a drug that is not there,” public defender Bridget Hofler told the jury in her opening statement. “Mental illness, not a drug, is why Ron is here and Logan is not.”
The prosecution says insanity doesn’t fly as a defense because Exantus voluntarily took some sort of synthetic drug that caused a psychosis.
On Friday, Special Judge Phil Patton denied a defense motion to exclude a psychiatrist and toxicologist from testifying for the prosecution. Both experts will testify that the behavior of Exantus is consistent with a person who ingested synthetic marijuana, bath salts or some “disassociative drug.”
Hofler counters that a blood sample taken from Exantus detected the presence of only a non-active ingredient of marijuana.
Jury selection began last week and over the course of four days the pool of potential jurors was narrowed from more than 180 to 34. The final 14 jurors were selected Monday.
When all the evidence has been presented, two of those 14 will be excused just before the remaining 12 begin deliberations.
This will be the first death-penalty case to go to trial in Fayette County since 2015, when Joel David Searcy was tried in the fatal shooting and robbery of an 82-year-old man.
The jury found him guilty of manslaughter, not murder, and with that verdict Searcy could not be sentenced to death.
The last time that a Fayette jury recommended death was in 2010 for Carlos Lamont Ordway, who was found guilty in the slayings of two men in 2007. The Kentucky Supreme Court overturned his conviction. Ordway was retried in 2014 and he was sentenced to life in prison without parole for 25 years.