Co-workers and other defense witnesses in the Ronald Exantus trial described him Wednesday as a dependable, focused dialysis nurse.
But during cross-examination, those same witnesses said they would have been surprised to learn Exantus, accused of murder in the death of a 6-year-old boy, was a regular user of marijuana and that he used a painkiller without a prescription.
“Never did I see anything but exemplary behavior” from Exantus, said Dr. Angela Schrader, medical director of the Indiana dialysis unit where Exantus was a nurse. Schrader said she “never” received any complaints that Exantus was intoxicated.
Drug use is a crucial element for prosecutors, who argue that Exantus was acting in a self-induced psychotic state when he stabbed Logan Tipton to death in December 2015 because Exantus had taken synthetic drugs.
The defense, which doesn’t dispute that Exantus killed the boy, argues that Exantus was insane because of an underlying mental illness that was organic, but not self-induced. The defense hopes the jury will find him not guilty by reason of insanity.
Prosecutor Keith Eardley asked Schrader if she would be surprised to learn Exantus regularly smoked marijuana.
“I never saw any poor judgment” that would make his behavior suspicious, Schrader said.
Schrader said she would have been “especially concerned about patient care” had she known Exantus took hydrocodone without a prescription, as he told Versailles police after his arrest in Logan’s death.
In redirect examination by public defender Kim Green, Schrader reiterated that she never saw any suspicious behavior.
If he is found guilty of murder, Exantus could face the death penalty.
Exantus drove from Indianapolis to Versailles, entered the Tipton household, where he was a stranger, and stabbed the boy to death in his upstairs bed.
The defense witnesses who testified Wednesday spoke glowingly of Exantus.
Rex Nottage, his high school football coach, said Exantus “ was one of the best linebackers I ever coached. ...He was special.”
But Nottage also said Exantus had mood swings and would sometimes take himself out of a game. During those episodes, Exantus would not acknowledge Nottage’s presence.
Robin Wildman, a social worker who knew Exantus through his work as a dialysis nurse, described him as “very grounded, very quiet, really focused.”
Under cross-examination, Wildman said she would be very surprised to learn that Exantus “was using drugs off the street,” as Eardley put it.
James Murphy, who supervised Exantus at Fresenius Medical Care in Indiana, said he received no complaints of Exantus being intoxicated.
Exantus “was a very dependable, responsible person” who “always accomplished the task assigned on time,” Murphy said.
Eardley: Would you have let Exantus in a room with dialysis patients if you had known he was using hydrocodone without a prescription and was a regular user of marijuana?
“I would not,” Murphy said.
Marijuana found in the floorboard of Exantus’ car after the slaying tested positive only for THC, the chemical compound responsible for the high in cannabis, said Chris Ramsey, who works in the Kentucky State Police lab in Frankfort. No other hallucinogenic drugs, such as PCPs, or opioids were found in the marijuana, he said.
Testimony will resume at 9 a.m. Thursday. Special Judge Phil Patton said the defense might finish presenting its side on Thursday.
No trials are conducted on Fridays in Fayette County, so Patton told jurors that they will receive instructions, hear closing arguments and begin deliberations on Monday.