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An Indiana man sentenced to life without the possibility of parole for the horrifying 2014 cannibalistic murder of his ex-girlfriend is seeking to have his conviction overturned.
Joseph A. Oberhansley, 41, was found guilty in September 2020 for the gruesome death of Tammy Jo Blanton, 46. She was found dismembered in the bathtub of her Jeffersonville, Indiana home — just north of Louisville, Kentucky — and Oberhansley, whose mental competency was the focus in both of his murder trials, was accused of raping and stabbing her more than 25 times before removing some of her vital organs and ingesting them.
He was not convicted on the rape charge.
His first trial ended in a sudden mistrial in 2019 when a state’s witness alluded to Oberhansley’s past — which included a prior manslaughter conviction from when he shot and killed his teenage girlfriend (and mother of his child) while high on methamphetamines in Utah in 1998. During that incident, Oberhansley also shot his mother and fired on his sister and his infant son before shooting himself in the head.
He served 12 years and was out on parole for those crimes when he violently murdered Blanton. He was convicted of her murder at a subsequent trial and sentenced to life without the possibility of parole.
According to a 49-page appellate brief filed with the Indiana state supreme court on May 31, Oberhansley’s attorneys want the court to vacate that sentence for two reasons. First, his attorneys argue, is that jurors failed to find that the aggravating circumstances outweighed mitigating circumstances, arguably a violation of Oberhansley's right to due process.
More pointedly, however, was that the judge in the case did not take into account the “context of his severe mental illness,” including Oberhansley’s paranoid delusions, when imposing the sentence of life without parole.
“Oberhansley suffers from a serious and debilitating mental illness that caused him to become detached from reality that he thought he had to kill Tammy and eat her organs to achieve a higher level of consciousness and strength,” wrote appellate attorney Cara Schaefer Wieneke. “Any sentence imposed in this case would not change what Oberhansley did. Nevertheless, sentencing him to serve the remainder of his life in prison is inappropriate.”
The brief refers to Oberhansley’s crimes as “Gruesome. Horrific. Brutal,” but suggests the very nature of his crimes (which included parts of Blanton’s body found on cutlery and cookware in the victim’s home) aptly depicted the deteriorating state of Oberhansley’s mental health.
Oberhansley was arrested at the victim’s home on Sept. 11, 2014, after authorities conducting a welfare check found him there with the body. During a police interrogation, he initially claimed that "two African American men" killed Blanton but later admitted to having been in bed with Tammy when he "caught a vision" and that she had taunted him before her death in the bathroom. He also admitted to, among other things, using a pair of tongs to remove the victim’s “third eye,” claiming he could hear her thoughts, according to the brief.
“It would be easy to look at the horrors visited upon Tammy and conclude they were simply the actions of a monster,” the brief stated. “But doing so would be reductive, and this court’s review must look deeper.”
Attorneys also touched on Oberhansley’s history, including the suicides of his father and brother and his own suicide attempt — after shooting his girlfriend and mother — that resulted in permanent brain damage, according to the document. Experts previously asserted that Oberhansley lived with “either schizophrenia or general psychotic disorder,” noting his hallucinations and “irrational and expressed bizarre thoughts at hearings.”
Oberhansley was again deemed unfit to stand trial in 2020 but restored to competency later that year, as reported by Fox Louisville affiliate WDRB, and the trial proceeded.
Attorneys hope the state supreme court will remand the case to trial court, where a judge could impose a sentence of years instead of a life term without the possibility of parole.
Oberhansley is currently serving his sentence at the New Castle Psychiatric Unit, according to the Indiana Department of Corrections.
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