JEFFERSONVILLE — The death penalty has been taken off the table for a man charged in a five-year-old murder case. Instead, he faces life without parole if convicted.
A stipulation filed Friday in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 between the prosecutor's office and attorneys for Joseph Oberhansley states that the death penalty has been withdrawn. This amends how the jury will be selected from Hamilton County; since it is not a capital case, jurors need not be questioned separately during selection.
Oberhansley, 38, is accused of killing and consuming parts of his ex-girlfriend, 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton, in Jeffersonville in 2014. Jury selection is set begin Aug. 19. He is charged with murder, rape and burglary.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said in a statement issued Tuesday that while he has supported all along the death penalty in this case, his decision to withdraw is based on evidence about Oberhansley's mental health which he said could create more of a chance for reversal down the road.
"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," the statement reads, in part. "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..."
He also said foregoing the death penalty would spare an estimated $1 million in the case, which would add to the "several hundred thousand" spent so far, and significantly reduce the number of prospective jurors. As a death penalty case, there were roughly 2,000 in the jury pool; now that will be closer to 200.
Mull said he has spoken with Blanton's family and that they were adamant that proceeding with a life without parole case is preferred to the uncertainty of the death penalty case.
"I think it's the right decision that the prosecutor made," Brent Westerfeld, one of Oberhansley's attorneys, said about withdrawing the death penalty. "I think that the history of the case shows Mr. Oberhansley is severely mentally ill. Even though right now he's been found competent [to stand trial], he still is seriously mentally ill."
But Friday's agreement also includes acknowledgement from defense attorneys that neither the insanity defense nor any mental health defense will be used, following the judge's ruling that Oberhansley's wishes be upheld in the matter. At a hearing May 31, Oberhansley requested that the planned insanity defense be withdrawn because he has no mental issues and believes that such a defense would be an admission of guilt. Judge Vicki Carmichael issued an order supporting his request June 12.
Jury selection is expected to start Aug. 19 in Hamilton County, followed by a week or more of trial in Clark County Circuit Court No. 4.