A psychologist who evaluated Ronald Exantus concluded that he has “a major mental illness” and was undergoing a psychotic episode when he stabbed 6-year-Logan Tipton to death in Versailles.
On the fifth day of testimony in the Exantus trial, Dr. Kenneth Benedict, who was hired by the defense, could not specify what type of illness Exantus has. But he said it could be schizophrenia.
The testimony is the foundation of the defense, which acknowledges that Exantus, an Indianapolis nurse, killed the boy in December 2015 but argues Exantus should be found not guilty by reason of insanity.
The prosecution argues that Exantus caused his own psychosis because he took drugs, possibly synthetic marijuana or something else, before getting lost in Versailles on the way to Florida to see his mother.
If Exantus is found guilty of murder, he could face the death penalty.
During questioning by public defender Kim Green, Benedict acknowledged that substance-induced psychotic disorder needs to be considered as a possibility. But Benedict said “that is not the most likely diagnosis.”
Benedict maintained that his mental illness conclusions didn’t vastly differ from that of a psychiatrist at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in LaGrange, where Exantus was evaluated twice, once to determine whether he was mentally competent to assist in his defense and again to determine criminal responsibility. The psychiatric center examines defendants for the court and prosecution.
In his cross-examination, Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Lee Greenup noted that the psychiatric center reported the psychosis was most likely substance-induced, which differs from Benedict’s conclusion.
Greenup questioned whether a test Benedict administered to Exantus indicated that the defendant was malingering or faking symptoms of mental illness. Benedict said part of the test results questioned whether Exantus’ performance was “consistent.”
Benedict said in his evaluation that Exantus had no known prior criminal or psychiatric history. However, Greenup noted in court that Exantus caused physical injury to his infant daughter by shaking her in 2010.
“I’m aware of that,” Benedict said. “It’s my understanding that no criminal charges came from that.”
“So if a person had been not charged or acquitted, it would make no difference to you in a psychological workup?” Greenup asked.
“I’m sorry, what’s the question?” Benedict said.
“Well, I guess the question is you sound like a lawyer. Either a person has committed acts of violence or they hadn’t,” Greenup said. “You’re saying that to you, even if they have admitted it, it doesn’t matter if they weren’t charged or weren’t convicted?”
“No, I think it’s a relevant piece of information,” Benedict said. “He was having problems controlling his frustrations and anger.”
The jury also heard from Exantus’ sister, Maggie, who entered the courtroom weeping. She cried off and on through her brief time on the witness stand.
Maggie Exantus said her brother “wasn’t making any sense” after his arrest and when she spoke to him by telephone from the Woodford County jail.
“When he talked, you just could tell it was not him,” she said through tears.
After receiving medication at the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center in LaGrange, her brother was more talkative, Maggie Exantus said.
Edward Barbieri, a forensic toxicologist, also testified Thursday. He works for a private lab in Pennsylvania that did a drug screen on a sample of blood taken from Exantus shortly after his arrest.
Barbieri said no drugs were found in the sample, which the lab received 18 months after it was drawn from Exantus. Barbieri said drug compounds can degrade over time.
Barbieri acknowledged that the lab can’t find all synthetic cannabinoids.
“Because of the number of compounds out there, you can’t test for them all?” asked Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Keith Eardley, one of three prosecutors on the Exantus case.
“That’s right,” Barbieri said.
The trial will resume at 9:30 a.m. Monday with the reading of instructions to the jury, then jurors will hear closing arguments. Finally, the case will be turned over to the jury for deliberations.