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Indiana Supreme Court to hear oral arguments this week in Joseph Oberhansley’s murder sentence appeal

A gavel rests inside a court room.
Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron
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Unsplash
The Indiana Supreme Court will hear oral arguments this week on whether Joseph Oberhansley's life without parole sentence is appropriate. He was convicted in 2020 of killing and mutilating his ex-girlfriend at her Jeffersonville home.

The Indiana Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments this week related to a man convicted in 2020 of killing and dismembering his ex-girlfriend at her Jeffersonville home.

Six years after the death of 46–year-old Tammy Jo Blanton, a jury found Joseph Oberhansley guilty of her murder.

He was sentenced to life without parole. In the appellant brief filed last year, his attorneys argued, in part, that not enough weight was given to Oberhansley’s mental health issues during sentencing, and that life without parole is not appropriate.

They also say the court erred in imposing the sentence, after they say the jury failed to appropriately show it had found the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances according to state statute. Weighing these circumstances can show whether the crime is found relatively more or less severe.

Attorneys have asked the court to return the case to the trial court, for a judge to impose a sentence of a set number of years rather than life without parole.

Following their breakup, Oberhansley broke into Blanton’s Jeffersonville home, stabbed her to death and consumed parts of her organs. In the hours before she was killed, Jeffersonville police responded to a report that Oberhansley was trying to get into the house. They asked him to leave, which they testified he did.

The following morning, officers performed a welfare check after Blanton didn’t show up to work. They found her mutilated in the bathtub. Oberhansley answered the door and said two other men had killed her.

He later confessed during interrogation, but testified during trial that he was coerced.

He originally faced the death penalty. But when the defendant declined to let his attorneys pursue an insanity defense, the parties agreed to withdraw the death penalty possibility in exchange for the defense not using mental health evidence during trial.

Oberhansley has been diagnosed with schizophrenia, and suffered brain damage after a previous suicide attempt.

Prosecutors argued in a response brief that Oberhansley’s mental illness doesn’t outweigh the “gruesome and brutal” nature of the crime, which they say was planned in the days leading to her death.

They’ve also said the jury was “properly and repeatedly” instructed that in order to recommend a life sentence without parole, they must find the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances. They argue the jury made this finding.

Online court records show Oberhansley is held at the New Castle Psychiatric Unit.

Oral arguments are scheduled for 9 a.m. Thursday. Under Indiana appellate rules, the state Supreme Court presides over all life without parole appeals.

Coverage of Southern Indiana is funded, in part, by Samtec, Inc. and the Hazel & Walter T. Bales Foundation.

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