JEFFERSONVILLE — A tentative start date has been set for the second round of the Joseph Oberhansley murder trial, as attorneys in the five-year-old case prepare to select a new jury after last week's mistrial.
Court staff confirmed that attorneys in the trial will travel to Hamilton County, from where the jury is being selected, Sept. 4. They are expected to select 12 jurors and four alternates over that and the next day, with opening statements tentatively set to begin Sept. 6 in Clark County.
Oberhansley, 38, is charged with the murder, rape and home burglary of his ex-girlfriend Tammy Jo Blanton on Sept. 11, 2014. The initial jury was sworn in Aug. 21, after two days of selection in Hamilton County, with opening statements being delivered that day by defense attorney Bart Betteau and Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull.
But the trial was just a few hours into the first witness testimony when the defense made an oral motion for a mistrial, when a state's witness said on the stand things that were previously decided by both sides would not be brought to the jury — the defendant's past prison time and extent of drug use.
"If a jury hears anything about a past crime, you can't get it out of your mind," Betteau said that day in court.
The prosecutor agreed, stating that he'd rather select a new jury than risk the case getting appealed in several years based on the inadmissible information being said aloud in court.
Clark County Circuit Court No. 4 Judge Vicki Carmichael declared a mistrial.
Part of the new selection process means redoing things that have already happened. Attorneys and court staff will travel to Hamilton County during jury selection; they'll come back and start with opening statements again.
And some of the costs will double up. Clark County court staff reported that more than $1,500 was spent on hotel accommodations the one night the jury stayed in Clark County before being dismissed the following day. The bill included 17 rooms at $89 per night — one for each of the 15 jurors, plus two members of the court staff.
Since the jury is sequestered, meaning that it has limited access to any type of communication with the outside world during the trial, the Clark County Sheriff's Office has extra officers on staff to help ensure their safety while moving through areas to and from court.
Clark County Sheriff's Office Lt. Scottie Maples said that with any sequestered jury in Clark County, two extra officers keep watch over jurors outside of court hours. During the brief sequestration of last week's jury, this meant two officers were either with the jury or stationed at their hotel from 4 p.m. to 8 a.m., for a total of 32 extra manpower hours.
The total cost of this will have to be determined at the close of the trial, Maples said, since different officers may earn different wages depending on rank.
"Any sequestered jury is a large operation for the sheriff's office, which calls for a lot of planning and strategy," Maples said. "But we're well prepared to sequester a jury when a court requires us to."
The courts also paid roughly $700 for the jurors' dinner at Kobe steakhouse the first night of trial, and $300 the next day for lunch at Kingfish, both about a mile from the courthouse.
Court staff reported they won't have the bill from Hamilton County for the jury pool until the trial is over.