Crime

Boy’s accused killer is competent for murder trial, doctor testifies

Ronald Exantus entered Woodford Circuit Court Tuesday for a hearing on whether he is competent to stand trial for murder of Logan James Dean Tipton, 6.
Ronald Exantus entered Woodford Circuit Court Tuesday for a hearing on whether he is competent to stand trial for murder of Logan James Dean Tipton, 6. gkocher1@herald-leader.com

A doctor testified at a hearing Tuesday that Ronald Exantus, accused of killing a 6-year-old boy, is competent to stand trial.

But the two-hour hearing offered virtually no information to explain why the Indianapolis divorced father of three allegedly drove to Kentucky, broke into a Versailles house and stabbed Logan James Dean Tipton to death with a kitchen knife in December 2015.

The prosecution intends to seek the death penalty. Woodford Circuit Judge Rob Johnson did not decide whether Exantus is competent to stand trial, but said he would issue a written ruling.

Exantus, 33, did not testify but sat quietly in the courtroom. His mother and sister sat in the gallery behind him.

Dr. Amy Trivette, medical director of Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in La Grange, said Exantus understands the consequences he faces, and is able to rationally assist in his defense. Exantus was at the psychiatric center from Feb. 23 to May 2 for a court-ordered evaluation.

Exantus had no prior criminal history and no psychiatric history, Trivette said. When he went to an emergency room in January 2010 to complain about a worsening headache, he exhibited no overt signs of major mental illness, Trivette said.

Upon his admission to the psychiatric center, he told personnel there that he smoked marijuana frequently in the year before his arrest. He also told them that he had considered suicide.

Exantus also reported hearing voices spoken in the Creole language of his Haitian parents, Trivette testified. The voices did not command him to do things, but spoke negatively about him, Trivette said.

Exantus exhibited some impairment in his ability to think logically, Trivette said. But Exantus improved over the course of his treatment at the psychiatric center and his judgment was intact by the time of his discharge, Trivette said.

Exantus understands that the charges against him are “absolutely serious,” Trivette said, and understands the roles of the judge, jury, prosecutors and defense attorneys. For these reasons, she said Exantus is competent to stand trial.

During cross-examination, public defender Bridget Hofler noted that Exantus was incorrect in his understanding of some court procedures and roles. For example, Exantus said seven of the 12 jurors would have to vote guilty in order for him to be found guilty. Actually, the 12 jurors in a criminal trial would have to be unanimous.

But Trivette said Exantus has the ability to understand such facts if they are explained to him.

Hofler asked if competency is a “fluid thing,” and that while he might be competent now, “by the time we get to trial, he may not be?”

“That could happen,” Trivette said.

The defense sought to call as a witness a Kentucky State Police forensic analyst who performed toxicology tests on blood drawn from Exantus. But the judge sustained a prosecution objection that the testimony would be irrelevant in a competency hearing.

“Sometimes,” Hofler told reporters after the hearing, “people just have psychotic breaks ... They (psychiatric center personnel) can’t even determine what kind of psychosis it was. They just know he was psychotic. He was psychotic when he was in KCPC, they treated him ... and he got better.”

In the week before the stabbing, Exantus wasn’t sleeping or eating.

“He did a lot of really bizarre things that I’m not really able to go into now, culminating in him getting into a car, and driving over 300 miles to a place he’d never been, going in the home of people he’d never met, and this thing happening,” Hofler said. “I mean, he’s never been to Kentucky before other than to drive through it to get to Florida to see his parents.”

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