Pretrial publicity and racially charged comments on social media and websites should require moving the trial of accused killer Ronald Exantus from Woodford County to a neighboring county, preferably Fayette, a defense attorney argued Thursday.
But a prosecutor argued that Exantus, accused of murder in the December 2015 killing of 6-year-old Logan James Dean Tipton, is capable of receiving a fair trial in Woodford County.
Special Judge Phillip Patton said he will decide within a week whether to grant a defense request to move the trial, which is to start Aug. 11 in Versailles.
Public defender Bridget Hofler said there has been a “plethora of media coverage” about the case. Exantus, an Indianapolis divorced father of three, is accused of breaking into the Tipton family’s house and stabbing Logan to death with a knife. If convicted, Exantus could receive the death penalty.
Hofler questioned whether Exantus can receive a fair trial, and she cited various posts on media websites and elsewhere. In one post cited by Hofler, someone wrote, “He murdered a child and should receive death.”
In addition, Hofler said there is a “racial issue” in the case. Exantus is black, and Logan was white.
“Although Kentucky has not subscribed to hanging in years, there are countless, countless referrals to hanging, which of course refers back to lynching,” Hofler said. “Perhaps one of the most heinous things was ‘Call the emergency squad at the Cincinnati Zoo to take care of him,’ which I believe is a reference to gorillas.
“To ignore that there is a racial element at work here would not be best practice,” Hofler said. “If the trial is tried here, Mr. Exantus will not receive a fair trial.”
Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Keith Eardley said the amount of media coverage would be the same in Fayette County as it would be in Woodford.
As for the comments and posts cited by Hofler, Eardley said, “One thing we don’t know is who is making these comments. Are these people in Woodford County making these comments? Is it only a small group of individuals or is it a large segment of the community? We really don’t know. All we know is there are some really ugly comments appearing, and I don’t think we should take that as being reflective of the people of Woodford County.”
Eardley said Woodford Countians are fair and “I don’t believe they will deny Mr. Exantus the rights he’s entitled to.”
Eardley said the court should first try to seat a jury in Woodford County, and if that isn’t feasible, then move the trial to Bourbon or Scott counties, which are in the same judicial circuit.
Patton, the judge, said he will give the venue issue “more thought” and hoped to issue a ruling “within a week.”