Accused Cannibal Killer Joseph Oberhansley Won’t Face Death Penalty

Prosecutors said they withdrew capital punishment as the defendant's alleged mental-health issues could lead to a reversal of a guilty verdict.

July 03, 2019

Photo by: Mug shot of Joseph Oberhansley [Clark County Sheriff’s Office]

Mug shot of Joseph Oberhansley [Clark County Sheriff’s Office]

By: Mike McPadden

JEFFERSONVILLE, IN — An Indiana man facing trial for allegedly killing, mutilating, and eating various body parts of his ex-girlfriend won’t face the death penalty, according to a document filed by prosecutors in Clark County Circuit Court.

Joseph Oberhansley, 38, stands accused in the September 2014 murder of Tammy Jo Blanton, 46. According to police, Blanton had broken up with Oberhansley about a month earlier. He reportedly showed up at her house on September 11 and attacked her.

After Blanton failed to report to work, officers said they were called to check on her. Upon seeing the back door broken, the responders said they entered Blanton’s residence and discovered her mutilated body under a camping tent in her bathtub.

The arrest affidavit also claims police found “a plate with what appeared to be skull bone and blood on it,” as well as a skillet and a pair of tongs alleged to have had blood on them.

According to multiple media sources describing Oberhansley as an accused “cannibal,” authorities have theorized that he may have eaten parts of Blanton’s body.

Authorities additionally reported that parts of Blanton’s heart, lungs, and brain were missing, with the affidavit stating, “The front of the victim's skull appeared to have been crushed and brain tissue appeared scattered around the bathtub."

An autopsy reportedly determined that Blanton died from sharp-force trauma to the head.

Investigators said they tracked down and questioned Oberhansley and that he denied killing Blanton, but later admitted to breaking into her home and repeatedly stabbing her body.

In that same interview, police said, Oberhansley allegedly also claimed he had chased two armed black men out of Blanton’s residence, said he could hear her thoughts, and mentioned the Greek god Zeus, along with a being who had a third eye in his forehead.

Oberhansley has since been charged with murder, rape, and burglary. He has reportedly requested that his attorneys not plead insanity or any other mental-health defense, as he believes that would come off as an admission of guilt.

On June 12, a judge reportedly issued an order supporting Oberhansley’s request and he has been deemed competent to stand trial.

After withdrawing the death penalty, Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull issued a statement Tuesday declaring that the defendant’s possible mental-health issues would increase the chances of a reversal of a capital sentence upon appeal and, in fact, could jeopardize any guilty verdict.

Mull wrote, "Because of the psychiatric evidence that's been produced and put on the record in this case, I believe that it would be virtually impossible to see any death penalty in this case upheld in the federal courts…. Further, pursuing the death penalty in this case in light of this psychiatric evidence would present a substantial risk that any guilty verdict itself, in addition to the death penalty, would be reversed.”

Brent Westerfield, one of Oberhansley’s lawyers, responded to the announcement by telling a reporter, “I think it's the right decision that the prosecutor made. I think that the history of the case shows Mr. Oberhansley is severely mentally ill. Even though right now he's been found competent, he still is seriously mentally ill.”

Instead, prosecutors said the state will seek to put Oberhansley behind bars for life without the possibility of parole. Jury selection is scheduled to begin August 19.

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