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Indiana Supreme Court upholds life sentence for Joseph Oberhansley, convicted of killing, mutilating his ex-girlfriend

A gavel rests inside the court room of the 100th Air Refueling Wing base legal office at RAF Mildenhall, England, May 28, 2019. The attorneys in the legal office offer commanders legal advice and also provide services like notaries, power of attorneys, wills and legal assistance to Team Mildenhall. (Credit: U.S. Air Force photo by Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron)
Airman 1st Class Joseph Barron/United State Air Force
The Indiana Supreme Court has upheld a life without parole sentence for Ja man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend and dismembering her body in Jeffersonville in 2014.

The Indiana Supreme court has upheld a life without parole sentence for a man convicted of killing his ex-girlfriend in Jeffersonville and mutilating her body nearly a decade ago.

Nearly three years after Joseph Oberhansley was convicted of murder and burglary in the death of Tammy Jo Blanton, the state Supreme Court has confirmed he will be in prison for the rest of his life.

Police found Blanton’s body mutilated in her bathtub in 2014 after she didn’t show up to work.

Oberhansley answered the door for officers and later admitted to killing Blanton and consuming part of her organs.

Blanton had recently broken off their relationship, and her body was discovered hours after police responded to a call from Blanton reporting Oberhansley trying to get into her home.

He initially faced the death penalty, but that was withdrawn by the prosecution as part of an agreement preventing Oberhansley’s attorney’s from using mental health as a defense during trial.

In the appellate brief filed last May, attorneys argued that the jury had failed to show they had properly weighed the aggravating and mitigating circumstances, a requirement for recommending a life without parole sentence.

Appellate attorneys also said the sentence was inappropriate in light of Oberhansley’s severe mental illness, and should be revisited. They asked the state Supreme Court to return the case to trial court for a judge to impose a sentence of a term of years, not life.

In its opinion issued Wednesday, Indiana’s highest court found that the jury did weigh the aggravating and mitigating circumstances — factors which can add context to a crime being seen as relatively more or less severe.

Although Oberhansley’s attorneys say the jury was not given a form to show this finding, the state supreme court justices say in the opinion they were satisfied that the jury showed they’d weighed these.

“Both the preliminary and final instructions to the jury repeatedly hammered the point that the jury could not recommend [life without parole] without finding that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances,” it reads.

The court also found that despite evidence of Oberhansley’s mental illness, including that he was experiencing delusions during the crimes, he did not show “restraint or a lack of brutality,” or “any regard for human life.”

“His brief points to no aspects of his crimes which might alleviate their severity,” Indiana Supreme Court Justice Christopher Goff wrote in the opinion.

He is being held in the psychiatric unit at New Castle Correctional Facility about an hour outside of Indianapolis.

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.

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