Prosecution, defense make last appeals to jurors in 6-year-old's death
Ronald Exantus has been found not guilty by reason of insanity by a Lexington jury in the murder of a 6-year-old Versailles boy, who was killed in bed on a December night in 2015.
The family of Logan Tipton left the Lexington courtroom in anger late Monday night after the verdict was delivered. Screams of “It’s not fair!” could be heard inside the courtroom.
Public defender Bridget Hofler said afterward, “The jury returned the only verdict it could under the law. But there is no victory here for anybody. The Tiptons are devastated and we feel for them.”
The jury also concluded that Exantus was not guilty by reason of insanity on a burglary charge. He was found guilty but mentally ill on two counts of second-degree assault and one count of fourth-degree assault; those counts involved injuries suffered by two of Logan’s sisters and the boy’s father.
The jury will return at 1 p.m. Tuesday to determine recommended sentences on the assault convictions. Penalties could range from 5-10 years for each count of second-degree assault and up to a year on the fourth-degree assault conviction.
Prosecutors had brought charges against Exantus that could have carried the death penalty.
During closing arguments Monday morning, prosecutors had urged jurors to find Exantus guilty of murder in the 2015 death.
“Is he insane? I don’t think so,” Woodford County Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Keith Eardley told the courtroom.
But public defender Kim Green, one of the three attorneys defending Exantus, said in her closing argument that Exantus should be found not guilty by reason of insanity because mental illness prevented him from obeying the law.
“We have shown you that Ron was insane,” Green told the jurors.
The seven men and five women on the jury began deliberations at 11:35 a.m. Monday after hearing five days of testimony. The jurors were told they could choose from multiple verdicts: not guilty, not guilty by reason of insanity, guilty but mentally ill or guilty. The verdict was delivered nearly 12 hours later.
Exantus, a dialysis nurse, drove from Indianapolis to Versailles, a place he’d never been, entered the unlocked Tipton household before dawn, and stabbed the kindergartner in the head while the boy was in bed on Dec. 7, 2015.
In his closing, Eardley showed the bent knife with which Logan was stabbed.
“Think of the force used in that knife,” Eardley said.
Eardley cited evidence that Exantus knew that what he’d done was wrong.
When a Versailles police detective asked during a recorded interview what he’d done with the knife, Exantus answered, “stabbed.” In the same interview, Exantus said he understood that he had killed a child.
Exantus could be heard on a body camera recording when police came upon him at the Tipton house, Eardley said. “I’m sorry, God,” Exantus said.
Exantus asked for an attorney when he was booked at the Woodford County jail, Eardley said.
That and other evidence shows that Exantus “appreciated the criminality of his actions,” Eardley said.
The defense, which doesn’t dispute that Exantus killed the boy, argues that Exantus cannot be held responsible for his actions because was insane from an underlying mental illness.
The jury heard testimony that Exantus was down on all fours and barked like a dog during his stay at a state psychiatric center, and that he tore out his dreadlocks while at the Woodford County jail. Exantus told police in a recorded interview that he was “re-enacting surgery” from the TV drama “Grey’s Anatomy.” However, surgery doesn’t typically involve repeatedly plunging a knife into someone’s body, prosecutors noted earlier.
Green, the public defender, said people have tried to make sense of this case, but “the thing about insanity is there is no rationality.”
“Ron could not conform his actions to the law and you have seen no evidence to contest that,” Green told the jury.
Green noted that Exantus left Indianapolis without baggage, a coat, a weapon and a plan.
“This is not a man with a plan. This is not a man with intention. This is insanity,” Green said.
The trial was moved from Woodford County to Fayette because of pretrial publicity.
This was 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.