An Indiana judge declared a mistrial in the case of a man accused of kidnapping and killing his former girlfriend before eating some of her body parts.
The Herald Bulletin reports that Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael declared a mistrial Thursday after a witness for the state brought up the defendant’s criminal past during questioning by the prosecution.
Prior to allegedly murdering 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton inside her Jefferson, Indiana, home in 2014, Joseph Oberhansley, 38, shot and killed the 17-year-old mother of his child in 2000, in what prosecutors at the time called a “meth rage.”
After shooting the teen, Oberhansley shot at his mother, Brenda Self, who survived. He then shot himself in under the chin in a failed suicide attempt.
While giving testimony on the witness stand, state witness Donna Victoria, who was friends with Blanton, brought up the 2000 shooting that landed Oberhansley in prison for 12 years.
“She didn’t want him to go back to prison,” Victoria testified, referring to why Blanton didn’t call police after a kidnapping and rape incident with the suspect.
Victoria also mentioned that Blanton spoke to her previously about the suspect’s alleged drug use, USA Today reports.
“State prosecution knows I’m not guilty in this case. That’s why they dropped the death penalty. Two black male suspects broke into the house and killed Tammy.” — Joseph Oberhansley, accused murderer https://t.co/TQ7iNrM72G
— WOWT 6 News (@WOWT6News) August 22, 2019
Blanton had apparently stayed at Victoria’s house for a while because she was afraid of her ex, Oberhansley. During that time, Blanton confided to Victoria that Oberhansley had once held her captive and raped her.
Carmichael said Victoria’s statement put Oberhansley at “great peril” for prejudice, explaining why a mistrial would be appropriate.
“A simple admonishment to disregard (the comments) would be insufficient and certainly would not clear the prejudices created by the witness’ testimony.”
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said the mistrial could turn out to be beneficial since there is a chance a conviction could be overturned because of Victoria’s testimony.
“As much as I would like to stand up and argue, the fact of the matter is that if we do that and get a conviction and it gets overturned later because of this — which is a high probability with this sort of evidence — then we could be back in this same [place] again of having trial settings year after year after year.”
Bart Betteau, Oberhansley’s defense lawyer, reportedly said that Victoria’s comments likely wouldn’t be forgotten by the jury, which could damage the trial.
“The jury now knows he had a significant criminal record. He went to prison,” Betteau said. “This would be a legal fiction to think that admonishing (the comments) would make them forget about that.”
— Senait Gebregiorgis (@SenaitTV) August 22, 2019
Meanwhile, Mull suggested that a new trial should be underway rather quickly.
“It certainly makes sense to delay with two weeks rather than another half-decade,” Mull said.
As CrimeOnline previously reported, authorities found Tammy in her bathtub on September 11, 2014, with 25 stab wounds and blunt force injuries on her mouth, throat, chest, and fingers.
According to Mull, an enraged Oberhansley kicked down Tammy’s bathroom door after she locked herself inside while fleeing from him. Oberhansley then viciously mutilated her, the prosecutor said.
When Tammy failed to show up to work, police arrived at her home for a welfare check and found Oberhansley inside. The suspect reportedly claimed his ex wasn’t there and said he didn’t know where she could be, according to News and Tribune.
Investigators searched the home, however, and found Tammy’s lifeless body in her bathtub with several parts of her major organs missing.
Police arrested Oberhansley, who later told investigators that he broke into Tammy’s home after she changed the locks, stabbed her to death, then used an electric jigsaw to remove parts of heart, brain, and a lung, according to prosecutors. Oberhansley reportedly said he then ate the body parts he cut out.
For years, Oberhansley has been receiving treatment for mental issues, thus delaying the trial, but a judge found him competent earlier this year. While heading into the courtroom on Wednesday, Oberhansley blurted out that two black men killed Tammy.
“State prosecution knows I’m not guilty in this case that’s why they dropped the death penalty. Two black male suspects broke into the house and killed Tammy.”
During opening statements, Oberhansley interrupted Mull several times, accusing the prosecutor of failing to provide proof.
Mull was not deterred. He told jurors Tammy decided to “take back her life” after breaking up with the defendant. She moved back into her own home after hiding out at a friend’s house, then changed her locks and tried to start a new life for herself without fear.
Mull also explained how the defendant previously told investigators that while killing Tammy, “she really wasn’t all that scared.”
“In her last moments, she wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of seeing her scared,” Mull said.
Check back with CrimeOnline for further updates.
For the latest true crime and justice news, subscribe to the ‘Crime Stories with Nancy Grace’ podcast. Here is a related episode.
[Feature Photo: Tammy Blanton/Handout; Joseph Oberhansley/Police Handout]