JEFFERSONVILLE — A man who could face the death penalty if convicted of the 2014 murder of his ex-girlfriend says he does not want the insanity defense used at his trial.
Joseph Oberhansley, charged with the murder and mutilation of 46-year-old Jeffersonville woman Tammy Jo Blanton, appeared this morning in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 where he presented his case to the judge despite his attorneys' disagreement. Oberhansley also has sent a letter to Judge Vicki Carmichael detailing his wishes.
"What is the mental illness disorder that I'm ... supposed to have?" he asked Carmichael and lead defense attorney Brent Westerfeld. "I don't like being portrayed in the light that [I am]. I don't suffer from any mental illness."
The defendant said he believes it's rare for a jury to find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity; if they do, he said, it means spending the rest of one's life in a mental hospital, which he's not interested in doing. He also said he feels using the insanity defense would admit guilt.
"I'd rather have a regular trial where they could find me not guilty and I could walk away a free man," he said in court, adding that he understands the potential outcomes if he's found guilty — which could include a life sentence or the death penalty.
Defense attorneys say in recently-filed court documents these ideas come from inaccurate or incomplete information given to the defendant about the insanity plea.
Earlier in the week, Oberhansley's defense team filed a motion to dismiss the charges or the possibility of the death penalty because they believe that the "state has interfered with counsel's ability to provide effective assistance ... to their severely mentally ill client," court records show. The motion states that Oberhansley was given information about the defense and criminal proceedings at Logansport State Hospital that was "inaccurate, misleading and deceptive in many material respects."
Attorneys state in the motion that he was given inaccurate information, including the elements of the insanity defense and risks to using it.
"The Logansport State Hospital information and instruction is clearly designed to dissuade vulnerable, mentally ill and incompetent defendants like Mr. Oberhansley from pursuing an insanity defense in their criminal case," the motion reads, in part.
At Friday's hearing, Westerfeld called Timothy Allen, a psychiatrist who has knowledge of Oberhansley's mental health to the stand, to help show why he believes the defendant's request should be denied.
Testifying for more than an hour, the doctor said Oberhansley's mental diagnosis is hard to categorize but that he showed signs of psychotic mental illness. He also said Oberhansley has a lot of factors that complicate a diagnosis, including previous traumatic brain injury.
Oberhansley has undergone several mental evaluations. In October 2017, he was found incompetent to stand trial when it was determined that he was unable to understand the court proceedings and assist his defense.
After several months at Logansport, it was determined in July that competency had been restored and he returned to Clark County.
Competency to stand trial is not the same as the insanity defense, in which attorneys would try to show that his mental illness was "so severe at the time of the offense that he was unable to appreciate the wrongfulness of the conduct," Westerfeld said.
The insanity defense was interposed by the defense in January and the court has appointed psychiatrists to perform the assessments.
Right now, it's uncertain how the judge will rule Oberhansley's request to not use the insanity defense. There's also the question of when a client wants something different than his attorneys but is found to be mentally ill — where the line is for what the defendant decides or what the defense must try to show is in his best interest.
"That's what we're trying to decide, where the line is," Westerfeld said.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said he's prepared to move forward with the scheduled Aug. 19 trial date.
"I want to go to trial in August, and I want to have the trial concluded this summer," he said. "This family is ... eager for justice and I'm eager to give that to them as soon as possible."
Carmichael has taken the motion to revoke the insanity defense under advisement. Oberhansley has pretrial conferences set for June 28 and July 22, with a trial scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 19.