JEFFERSONVILLE — Six years after she was found brutally killed and dismembered in her Jeffersonville home, Tammy Jo Blanton’s family got to address the man convicted of her murder.
Joseph Oberhansley was found guilty Sept. 18 of murder and burglary in his ex-girlfriend’s death Sept. 11, 2014. Three days later, the jury recommended that he serve life without the possibility of parole, which is the sentence Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael handed down during a Tuesday hearing.
He also was given six years to be served concurrently for the burglary charge and will be given jail credit for the just over six years he has been held pretrial.
In court appearances Oberhansley maintained his innocence, saying it was two Black males who killed Blanton. He has repeated this multiple times to reporters on the way to and from hearings and to the jury during his own trial, despite confessing during a police interview hours after her body was found to killing Blanton and eating parts of her body.
“I want you to look me in the eye and tell me you did not do this,” Blanton’s mother said to Oberhansley as she stood feet away. “You’re just pure evil, and you’re just lucky to be able to live out your life breathing.”
Oberhansley argued that he was not evil but in fact a “highly religious man.” The two spoke back and forth for a few moments until the judge asked Oberhansley to stop.
Another family member addressed Oberhansley, saying she would like to think he spent every day thinking about what he had done and feeling the pain of it, but “in reality, there’s no remorse,” she said. “There’s nothing but evil.”
The woman said Oberhansley had taken the life of a funny person the family all loved and had also killed the sprit of several family members.
“Tammy Jo couldn’t fix you,” she said. “You are a monster. Rot in hell.”
Oberhansley answered her that he agreed that “it’s a horrible thing that happened to her.” But, he added that he wasn’t the one who did it. He also addressed the court saying there had been issues with the trial and he intended to appeal.
“This conviction is not going to stand,” he said.
Under Indiana law, the judge was mandated to pass down the life-without-parole sentence decided by the jury. Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said that even though he expected the sentence Tuesday, the hearing was important in that it put a period on the end of the six-year-old case.
“I think you could hear the emotion in the voices of the family members, the pent-up pain and hurt that has been built up inside them the last six years,” Mull said. “And today we were able to finally give them a sense of finality, that justice has been done, that they can start moving on with their lives and hopefully start to heal a bit.”
As prosecutor, he said he appreciates this point in cases when family members of victims are able to address the people who have hurt them.
“What so often happens in criminal cases is the people that are hurt the most, the family members, have such a little voice,” Mull said. “The proceeding becomes all about the defendant and the people who have been wronged are relegated to a secondary position.”
Defense attorneys Bart Betteau and Nick Karaffa met with reporters after the hearing, speaking about the disappointment they feel in the results of the case.
“We knew this day was coming but that doesn’t make it any less devastating,” Betteau said. “We don’t feel that justice was served here. We don’t feel that that was appropriate for him.”
“This was a mental illness case from the very beginning, so to say we’re troubled by how it came out is an understatement.”
Defense attorneys had planned to pursue the insanity defense, which Oberhansley himself petitioned the court in 2019 to have withdrawn. It was, and as a result Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull withdrew the death penalty.
Both sides signed a stipulation that mental health evidence would not be admitted during the trial, although it was allowed during the sentencing portion where the jury decided whether he should serve life without parole or a fixed term set by the judge.
Oberhansley was twice found not competent to stand trial and had to have competency restoration at Logansport state hospital, and mental health experts testified during the sentencing phase of the trial Sept. 21 that Oberhansley exhibited signs of schizophrenia.
Betteau said justice in this case would have looked like treating the case as a mental health issue, not a criminal issue, “from day one,” Betteau said. “The appropriate thing would have been to involve mental health authorities, get him whatever treatment is necessary and if he needed to be held in a mental health facility, so be it, if the people who were qualified to make the decision made the decision that he was a danger to others and would continue to be.”
But he added that “there’s no one to blame here,” he said. “I don’t think it’s any secret that Joseph didn’t ask for mental illness, Joseph didn’t ask to be the way he is, but he’s still a human being and should be treated like a human being. So nobody’s at fault here, including Joseph.”
Defense attorney Brent Westerfeld requested during the hearing that Oberhansley be returned to the mental health ward at the same Indiana prison where he has been held in recent months.