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Joseph Oberhansley, convicted of killing and dismembering his ex-girlfriend, appeals sentence

The Indiana Supreme Court is considering a sentence appeal for a man convicted in 2020 of killing and mutilating his ex-girlfriend at her Jeffersonville home.
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The Indiana Supreme Court is considering a sentence appeal for a man convicted in 2020 of killing and mutilating his ex-girlfriend at her Jeffersonville home.

A man accused of killing, dismembering and partially consuming his ex-girlfriend in Jeffersonville in 2014 has appealed his sentence of life without parole, citing mental health issues. 

In 2020, a jury found 41-year-old Joseph Oberhansley guilty of murder and burglary in the death of Tammy Jo Blanton, who was found dead days after she had ended their relationship. 

He was sentenced to life without parole, and is currently held at the New Castle Psychiatric Unit in Indiana. 

Oberhansley was arrested after police, who were performing a welfare check at Blanton’s home, found her dismembered in the bathtub, with portions of some organs removed. 

The defendant had answered the door for police, initially telling them two men had broken in and killed Blanton. He later admitted to killing and dismembering her, but said during his trial that he was coerced by police into saying that. 

His attorneys had planned to use an insanity defense, but withdrew that when Oberhansley himself argued against it to the judge in pretrial proceedings. 

He originally faced the death penalty, but the prosecution agreed to withdraw that if the defense did not bring up mental health issues. 

The 49-page appeal document states his life without parole sentence is inappropriate, and asked the court to send it back to a trial court for a term of years to be served.

“It would be easy to look at the horrors visited upon Tammy and conclude they were simply the actions of a monster,” it reads, in part. “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.”

The appeal also questions whether the jury had adequate evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to recommend the life without parole sentence. 

Heather Henderson Galligan, a psychologist hired by the court who also testified as a defense expert witness, diagnosed Oberhansley as having schizophrenia. She also said that he exhibited signs of both visual and olfactory hallucinations during the recorded police interrogation video following his arrest. 

There were also several times throughout the case pretrial when Oberhansley was found not competent to stand trial, and was transported to Logansport State Hospital for treatment and competency restoration. 

For a defendant to be competent to stand trial, it means they at that time understand the nature of the proceedings and are able to cooperate with defense attorneys. 

At the time of Blanton’s death, Oberhansley was on parole after being convicted for shooting and killing his girlfriend, 17-year-old Sabrina Elder, in Utah in 1998. On that day, he also shot and injured his mother before shooting himself in the head.

In that case, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and served just under 12 years. 

He was also out on bond in several Clark County cases, including a 2013 felony for strangulation after police say he was found choking a man, and a charge for allegedly leading police on a high speed chase. 

The murder case first went to trial in August 2019, but a mistrial was called early on when a witness testified to information the parties agreed would not be introduced. 

Oberhansley's attorneys filed a notice of appeal in October 2020, a week after he was sentenced.

Aprile Rickert is LPM's Southern Indiana reporter. Email Aprile at arickert@lpm.org.

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