JEFFERSONVILLE — The trial has started for a man accused of killing and mutilating 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton nearly five years after police were called to Blanton’s home for a welfare check.
Jury selection is underway in Hamilton County in the trial of 38-year-old Joseph Oberhansley, charged with the murder of his ex-girlfriend in Jeffersonville. Hamilton County jurors are being chosen to hear the case, which will be tried in Clark County, due to pretrial publicity. Opening statements are expected to start Wednesday afternoon in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4.
What police saw inside the home at 329 Locust St. in the early hours of Sept. 11, 2014, was nothing short of horrifying. First responding officers entered the home and noted large amounts of blood on the bathroom floor. The tub was covered with a vinyl camping tent.
When detectives pulled back the tent, they discovered Blanton’s body, which had sustained deep cuts and part of which was missing.
According to the report filed by Jeffersonville police, Oberhansley confessed that he had broken into Blanton’s home and into the bathroom, where she had locked herself. He admitted to killing her with a knife and consuming part of her organs.
But Oberhansley has since said in court hearings that he’s innocent. He is charged with murder, abuse of a corpse, rape and residential entry. If convicted, he could face life without parole.
It won’t be the first time Oberhansley’s fate is in the hands of a court. In 2000, he was sentenced to no more than 15 years in a Utah State Prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter in the death of 17-year-old Sabrina Elder.
Sometime after he was released from prison in July 2012, he made is way to Indiana, under the supervision of the Interstate Commission for Adult Offender Supervision.
On Dec. 9, 1998, then-17-year-old Oberhansley shot the mother of his newborn child five times in the head and arm, according to court records from Salt Lake County, Utah. He also shot his mother, Brenda Lee Self, once in the back and once in the arm.
According to a 1999 report from Utah news outlet Deseret News, Oberhansley was unprovoked when he walked into his grandmother’s home in West Valley, Utah, and shot the two women. Oberhansley survived a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Just over one year later, Oberhansley signed an agreement in which he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and attempted homicide. He faced one to 15 years in prison and was paroled July 10, 2012, by the Utah Board of Pardons, according to newsgathering partner Wave 3 News.
By the time he had his first known encounter with police in Southern Indiana, he was still on parole in Utah.
Around 4:30 a.m. on March 10, 2013, Jeffersonville police responded to an apartment above a bar on East Chestnut Street. They were greeted by a woman screaming “he is killing my boyfriend,” the police report shows.
The “he” the woman was referring to was Oberhansley, who police observed was naked and choking another man to near unconsciousness. Officers gave several verbal commands before Oberhansley released the victim. But when police say he refused orders to lay on the floor with his hands out, officers tased Oberhansley twice and secured handcuffs around his wrists.
On the way to the Clark County Jail, Oberhansley told police the man and woman had tried to rob him and that he was the one in fear for his life. He also said he was afraid “he was going to have to kill” the man police saw him choking.
Oberhansley, the victim and the victim’s girlfriend had conflicting accounts of what happened that night. The woman said Oberhansley had followed her home from a bar, but she later admitted that she willingly had Oberhansley drive her home. Oberhansley said the woman invited him to her place.
Oberhansley was arrested for strangulation and resisting law enforcement that day and released from jail on bond three days later. He wasn’t formally charged until July 2013, but Indiana statute allows the prosecution up to a year from the arrest to file charges. If a person is held in custody, prosecution must file charges within 72 hours, not including weekends.
Almost exactly one year after he was charged, Oberhansley was arrested again.
On July 21, 2014, police say Oberhansley led officers on a multi-state pursuit. It began at Nachand Lane and 10th Street, where an officer pulled behind Oberhansley’s blue Chevy truck, which had been reported for reckless driving.
The officer, who saw Oberhansley’s car cross the yellow lines, activated his emergency lights. Oberhansley reportedly drove through a red light and refused to stop. The pursuit continued north on Interstate 65, onto Veterans Parkway in Clarksville and back to Jeffersonville.
Police deployed spike strips at Foxglove and Larkspur, causing the truck’s front passenger tire to blow out before the truck crashed into a fire hydrant. Oberhansley then jumped out of his truck and began to “chew vigorously on his left wrist,” according to the police report, which also states he refused commands, got back into his truck and managed to drive off.
Police pursued Oberhansley through Jeffersonville and onto southbound I-65 into Louisville. The Louisville Metro Police Department took over the pursuit and were eventually able to apprehend Oberhansley. He was charged in Clark County with criminal recklessness and resisting law enforcement. The case, like the 2013 strangulation case, is ongoing.
On July 31, 2014, 10 days after the pursuit, Oberhansley was released on a $500 bond. Roughly six weeks later, he would be arrested and charged in Tammy Jo Blanton’s murder.
He has been held without bond since his Sept. 11, 2015, arrest following the discovery of Blanton’s body. Though the pending case is in Clark County, the defendant was transferred to the Indiana Department of Correction Nov. 15, 2015, to await trial after the judge granted the defense’s request to do so.
— Staff reporter Aprile Rickert and former staffer Elizabeth DePompei compiled this story.
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