A 41-year-old Indiana man convicted of murdering and dismembering his ex-girlfriend before partially eating several of her internal organs is appealing his sentence of life in prison without the possibility of parole.
Attorneys representing Joseph Oberhansley last week filed a brief with the Supreme Court of Indiana seeking to have the court vacate his sentence and remand his case back to the trial court to impose a specific term of years due to his severe mental illness.
A Clark County jury in September 2020 found Oberhansley guilty on one count of murder and one count of burglary in connection with the horrific murder of his former girlfriend, 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton in her own home in 2014. The jury found him not guilty on one count of rape. He is currently being held at Indiana’s Castle Psychiatric Unit.
At approximately 9:30 a.m. on the morning of Sept. 11, 2014, officers with the Jeffersonville Police Department responded to a call requesting a welfare check at Blanton’s home. Several hours earlier, Blanton had called 911 because an angry Oberhansley was upset about the end of their relationship—refusing to leave her home until ordered by several police officers.
Upon arriving at Blanton’s home, officers knocked on the door and Oberhansley answered. A detective on the scene noticed a cut on Oberhansley’s hand and searched him. In his pocket he had a brass knuckle knife that appeared to have hair and blood on it.
Investigators obtained a warrant for the home and inside the bathroom found a “big bloody mound of something in the bathtub.” It was there that they found Blanton’s body. She had been stabbed several times in the head, neck, and chest.
Blanton’s body had also been heavily mutilated. The front portion of her skull, a portion of her brain, lung, and most of her heart had also been removed.
During a subsequent interview with police, Oberhansley “revealed to the detectives that he ate Tammy’s brain” and that he also “tried to pull the ‘third eye’ out with tongs,” police wrote. He also admitted to eating the organs that he removed from Blanton.
The 49-page appellate brief notes that Oberhansley was “operating under an extreme emotional or mental disturbance when he killed Tammy” and was suffering from “active delusions.” A psychologist testified at trial that Oberhansley was “the most severely mentally ill person whose case she had reviewed,” Oberhansley’s attorney wrote.
“It would be easy to look at the horrors visited upon Tammy and conclude they were simply the actions of a monster. But doing so would be reductive, and this Court’s 7(B) review must look deeper. This Court must consider his actions in the context of his profound mental illness,” defense attorney Cara Schaefer Wieneke wrote.
“There is also no question that Oberhansley was suffering from a severe mental illness when he committed this crime. What there is a question about, however, is whether Tammy would be alive today if Oberhansley were not so severely mentally ill. There are reasons to believe that she would. Because of that, Oberhansley asks this Court to find his sentence of life without parole is inappropriate.”
As previously reported by Law&Crime, Oberhansley’s mental state was a recurring complication in the court process, in which he was found competent and incompetent. For example, in 2017, his defense wrote that the defendant believed they were working for the devil, according to The Courier-Journal.
The case was originally declared a mistrial after witness testimony put forth information about Oberhansley’s past that parties had stipulated would not be introduced during the proceedings.
For example, it wasn’t specified in court, but the defendant previously spent a 12-year stint in a Utah prison for manslaughter because—while he was jealous and high on meth—he shot and killed his girlfriend Sabrina Elder, and shot his mother (who later forgave him).
Oberhansley’s sister grabbed his and Elder’s infant son. He shot at them, but missed. Then Oberhansley shot himself in the head. He pleaded guilty down from a murder charge. His family was reluctant to take the stand, prosecutors said.
In his first trial over Blanton’s death, Oberhansley’s defense asserted that their client’s mental state was a major factor. Lawyer Bart Betteau cited horrifying details of the murder, saying that jurors would hear that Oberhansley believed Blanton was going to kill him and that she could hear his thoughts.
“Think about the process and say to yourself, is this someone who’s thinking right?” he said, according to The Courier-Journal. “His thought was that someone was after him.”
Oberhansley’s attorneys couldn’t mount an insanity defense, however. They lost their ability to do so in return for the state declining to seek the death penalty. The attorneys had actually wanted to put up an insanity defense, but Oberhansley previously filed a motion to withdraw it. He denied living with a mental illness.