Prosecutor: ‘Dismayed and disappointed’ by Exantus verdict
Three weeks after a jury found Ronald Exantus not guilty by reason of insanity for stabbing six-year-old Logan Tipton to death – after declaring him guilty but mentally ill for assaulting the boy’s father and sisters – Commonwealth’s Attorney Gordie Shaw was still puzzled.
“I’ve had so many thoughts about this and it’s something that we talk about daily around the office, still. So I’m sure we’re going to continue to do that, and not just up and until the (April 24) sentencing, but thereafter,” Shaw said. “I mean, this was a case that we knew was not only important to the family, but important to the town, and so that’s why we were really dismayed and disappointed with the jury’s result.”
Ronald Exantus killed Logan Tipton and attacked other members of the boy’s family on Dec. 7, 2015.
The Fayette County jury’s March 19 verdict was followed by their 20-year sentence on burglary and assault charges that could leave Exantus eligible for parole as soon as December of 2019.
“To try to guess how they arranged the concept that he was sane for 30 seconds but then insane the next 30 seconds, or vice-versa, there’s no way I can explain that,” Shaw said. “Obviously, they were deciding that some counts merited mentally ill and others, he was insane. They had that choice of ‘guilty but mentally ill’ or ‘not guilty by insanity’ and somehow they declared him to be both.”
The defense claimed that Exantus was in a psychotic state after taking synthetic drugs.
Shaw said he might have understood the verdict if Exantus’s crimes were committed over a period of hours or days. “But we’re talking about something that occurred within a matter of seconds to very few minutes, so that’s a rather small time capsule to be both sane and insane,” he said.
Shaw praised the other two members of his prosecuting team, Keith Eardley and Lee Greenup, as well as Phil Patton, the Glasgow judge appointed to hear the case. He said Patton’s instructions to the jury “were pretty clear to me,” and took no issue with them.
“As far as our presentation of proof, it went as well as any case we’ve ever tried. Every bit of evidence that we wanted to get in, we were able to get admitted. … every question or weakness we thought the defense had, we were able to point that out without any problem,”
Shaw said, referring to his team’s cross-examination of a mental health expert hired by the defense.
Shaw echoed the assessment of others in the legal community, including former Court of Appeals Judge Tony Wilhoit, in calling the jury’s determinations “an inconsistent verdict.”
“I’ve never seen anything like that,” Wilhoit said.
Kim Green, one of three public defenders appointed to represent Exantus in a case that could have led to the death penalty, told the Sun that jurors reached the correct verdict on the murder and burglary charges.
“That was what we have been saying from the beginning of the case – that Mr. Exantus was clearly insane at the time of the crime. I think the public has some sort of preconceived notions about the insanity defense, so we knew that it would be a difficult defense going in there, but it was what we had been asking for the entire time and it was the right verdict under the law,” Green said.
Asked how the jury could reach a different conclusion on the assault charges, Green said, “I think unless we were in that jury room, we’re not really going to understand the reasoning there. The law, in terms of guilty but mentally ill versus insanity, the differences are subtle, so in some ways, yes, it’s an inconsistent verdict. But I think we would really need to understand what went on in that jury room.”
Green said she knows the entire process has been very difficult for the Tipton family, and that she understood their feelings about the verdicts.
Shaw said in his 30 years of legal work, the only case he could compare the Exantus verdict to was a case in which someone was accused of entering a house to steal jewelry – a clear case of burglary – but only convicted for theft.
Shaw said in the Exantus case, his team was surprised by more than just the murder verdict.
“So first you hear this, ‘not guilty’ and ‘not guilty,’ well then, logically you’re thinking, ‘Well, we’re going to stand here as they continue to read off ‘not guilty’s,’” Shaw said. “They decided, for whatever reason, he’s insane. But then they start saying, ‘guilty,’ and that’s when you start wondering, ‘Did I hear everything correctly?’”
Shaw said Patton’s order that members of the jury not be contacted to speak about their decisions means one can only guess at their reasoning, and that the length of time they spent deliberating – 12 hours – was not unusual in a capital murder case.
Shaw said his team, which spent a considerable amount of time with the Tipton family before and during the trial, tried to comfort them after the verdict and sentencing.
“Sure, to the best of our ability. I don’t know how you can adequately address it, though. We did our best to make sure there weren’t any alternative remedies we could follow up after the ruling. I mean, this is something known as an inconsistent verdict, but those are legal in Kentucky,” he said. “Unlike the defense, we don’t get to file an appeal if things don’t go our way.”
Exantus will be sentenced April 24 at 10 a.m. in the Woodford Circuit Courtroom. An hour before that, a march to protest the jury’s decision will begin at the site of the old St. Leo’s School site and proceed to the courthouse.