• Bob Vlach, Woodford Sun Staff

Competency hearing held for accused murderer

A competency hearing was held on Tuesday for an Indiana man accused of murdering a 6-year-old boy in his family's Versailles home on Dec. 7, 2015. Dr. Amy Trivette testified during Tuesday's hearing that based upon the open-ended questions she asked Ronald Exantus about the felony charges he's facing and his understanding of the severity of those charges that he understood the potential consequences he'd face if convicted. Exantus also understood that a jury is the fact-finder in a trial, according to Trivette, medical director of the Kentucky Correctional Psychiatric Center (KCPC). "It's my opinion, with a reasonable degree of medical certainty, that he does have the capacity to appreciate the nature and consequences of the proceedings against him," said Trivette. "And that he does have the ability to rationally participate in his own defense." Six-year-old Logan Tipton was stabbed to death in his bedroom last December. Two of his siblings suffered non-life threatening lacerations. And his father, Dean Tipton, scuffled with Exantus and got a kitchen knife away from him before police officers arrived, according to authorities. Commonwealth's Attorney Gordie Shaw has filed his notice of intent to seek the death penalty in the case. Public defender Bridgett Hofler questioned KCPC's determination that Exantus is competent, a term defined by the courts as a defendant's ability to understand the charges against him and to consult rationally with his attorney to aid in his defense if a case goes to trial. During her cross-examination of Trivette, Hofler pointed out that the KCPC psychiatrist did not use any standardized competency test to make her determination of competence. In explaining why she didn't use those instruments to determine competence in this case, Trivette said, "It was very clear to me that Mr. Exantus had a fairly good understanding of legal issues and certainly was able to...," before being interrupted by Hofler telling her, "That was based solely on your opinion." "Especially since he's on trial for his life - not just jail time, but for his life," added Hofler, "it might be a good idea to make sure that he really understands everything about this process that's going to determine whether he lives or dies." "If I had felt it would be helpful," responded Trivette, "then I would have administered it." Woodford Circuit Judge Rob Johnson told prosecuting and defense attorneys that he will make a ruling on whether or not Exantus, 33, is mentally competent to face murder and other felony charges at trial by his next scheduled court appearance on Wednesday, Nov. 2. When Exantus was admitted at KCPC on Feb. 23, Trivette said he was cooperative and forthcoming with information. However, during his initial evaluation, he told a KCPC physician that family members, friends and coaches had suggested he seek psychiatric treatment for mood swings because he may suffer from bipolar disorder - sometimes "feeling inflated and invisible," Trivette said. Exantus also acknowledged a history of violent behavior toward his children and animals during his initial evaluation, she said. During her subsequent examination of Exantus, Trivette reported that he'd been hearing voices, but they were not telling him to harm himself or others. He later asked to be moved away from others - eventually exhibiting unusual behaviors. "Yelling out for no apparent reason . and there would be times when he would bark like a dog," she added. After being prescribed antipsychotic medication, Exantus was better able to discuss symptoms he'd been experiencing and explain the voices he'd been hearing, which "he knew weren't real," Trivette said. The symptoms exhibited by Exantus demonstrated some type of psychotic disorder, but his symptoms had "improved prior to his admission to KCPC and prior to beginning any treatment, based on the descriptions we had of how he had been (acting) previously in the jail and his own self-description of some of the symptoms he had experienced previously," said Trivette. She said upon his discharge from KCPC on May 2, Exantus was no longer reporting any hallucinations or delusional beliefs, which he said had been resolved with treatment. During questioning by Assistant Commonwealth's Attorney Keith Eardly, Trivette said University of Kentucky medical records showed that Exantus was "agitated, raising his voice; however, is not physically violent" during a neurological examination on Dec. 12, which showed no abnormalities. A toxicology screen was positive for Tylenol and marijuana, she added. At a subsequent examination on Jan. 30, Exantus told a UK physician that he had not been sleeping well prior to Dec. 7, 2015, and that people were following him in Kentucky. Earlier in her testimony, Trivette shared other findings contained in a KCPC report. During interviews, Exantus said he was born and raised in Coral Springs, Fla. He initially did not report any history of abuse or neglect, but later said he was "spanked at times" with a belt, Trivette said. Exantus also reported being molested on one occasion as a child, Trivette testified, but he did not report any significant childhood behavioral problems or any family history of mental illness. He did acknowledge that he used marijuana intermittently over the years beginning at age 18, with his heaviest period of use coming the year before his arrest in Woodford County. Exantus - described as "a good kid" by his father and "a perfect child" by his sister - furthered his education after graduating from high school, and eventually earned a certification as a dialysis technician and became a registered nurse in 2013. His longest period of continued employment - eight years at Fresenius Medical Care in Indianapolis - ended with his arrest in Versailles on charges of murder, first-degree burglary, two counts of second-degree assault and fourth-degree assault on Dec. 7, 2015. A father of three young children, Exantus was married for seven years. Prior to Tuesday's hearing, Hofler told Judge Johnson that she anticipated calling on three expert witnesses to testify. Hofler declined to have any of them testify after cross-examining Trivette. Both she and Eardley also declined Johnson's offer to give a closing argument.

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