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A Clark County judge has ruled that Joseph Oberhansley, accused of murder and potentially facing the death penalty, has the right to decide for himself to withdraw the insanity defense his attorneys entered in January. 

JEFFERSONVILLE — A judge has ruled that a Clark County man accused of murder and potentially facing the death penalty if convicted has the right to decide whether to pursue the insanity defense.

Joseph Oberhansley, 38, is accused of killing and mutilating his ex-girlfriend, 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton, in Jeffersonville in 2014. He has a jury trial scheduled for Aug. 19.

At a hearing May 31, Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael took under advisement Oberhansley's motion to withdraw the insanity defense from his case, which defense attorneys had interposed in January.

At that hearing Oberhansley told the judge he felt using the insanity defense would admit guilt, and that he believes it's rare for a jury to find a defendant not guilty by reason of insanity. If that happened, it would still mean being sent to a mental hospital after the trial rather than to prison or released, if acquitted.

"I don't suffer from any mental illness," he said during the hearing, the News and Tribune previously reported. The defendant was previously found not competent to stand trial and was transported to Logansport State Hospital to restore competency. Last July, he was deemed competent and returned to Clark County to proceed with his case.

At the May hearing defense attorneys called to the stand a psychiatrist who had knowledge of Oberhansley's mental state. He said although not a clear-cut diagnosis, he believes the defendant shows signs of psychotic mental illness.

In Carmichael's ruling filed Tuesday, she used related case law to support her finding on the importance of allowing a defendant to make decisions on key elements of their case, including ones related to insanity defense.

"Defendant Oberhansley has made it abundantly clear to this court and to his counsel that it is his desire to stand trial and allow a jury to determine his guilt or innocence," the ruling reads, in part.

"He has consistently refuted any suggestion that he suffers from a mental illness. He has specifically requested his counsel to refrain from using such a defense, which is his right."

It continues that for counsel to go against a fundamental decision made by a defendant is a violation of the defendant's Sixth Amendment rights, and that for the court to allow that "may be committing an irreversible error."

Lead defense attorney Brent Westerfeld declined to comment on the ruling when reached by phone Wednesday, stating that he had not yet received the document. Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said the judge's ruling was solid.

"I think the ruling is accurate in that it follows established law from the United States Supreme Court on this issue," Mull said. "The opinion is a well-reasoned and thoughtful analysis of the pertinent cases on this issue and I believe that judge Carmichael came to the correct result."

Oberhansley's next scheduled court appearance is July 2 at 9 a.m., for a hearing on the defense's motion to dismiss. He has pretrial conferences set for June 28 and July 22, with a trial scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. Aug. 19.

Aprile Rickert is the crime and courts reporter at the News and Tribune. Contact her via email at aprile.rickert@newsandtribune.com or by phone at 812-206-2115. Follow her on Twitter: @Aperoll27.

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