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Joseph Oberhansley is escorted through the halls of the Clark County Courthouse before entering into Circuit Court No. 4 for his final pretrial conference in July. 

JEFFERSONVILLE — Jury selection has begun in the five-year-old case of a man accused of stabbing, mutilating and consuming organs of his ex-girlfriend in 2014.

Attorneys for Joeseph A. Oberhansley, 38, and Clark County prosecutors are selecting from a pool of 240 jurors from Hamilton County — a change of venue that was approved after requested early in the case due to the extreme nature of the charges and the subsequent media attention.

Of those, 12 jurors and four alternates will be selected and brought back to Clark County Circuit Court No. 4, where opening statements are expected to begin Wednesday afternoon. This selection process is significantly lower than the 1,000 or more prospective jurors attorneys planned to call when Oberhansley's was still a capital case.

In June, Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull entered a stipulation to revoke the death penalty portion of the case, which had been filed in December 2014 by previous prosecutor Steve Stewart. Mull's reasoning, according to a statement, was the high risk of the case being overturned on appeal due to Oberhansley's mental status, and the high cost of a capital case.

Also included in the stipulation is that the defense agrees to not use mental health information in its defense, based on Oberhansley's recent rejection of using the insanity defense.

Oberhansley was arrested the morning of Sept. 11, 2014, when police responded to the Locust Street home of his ex-girlfriend, 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton, after she failed to show up for work that morning, according to court records. Oberhansley, who was inside the house when police arrived, told officers the woman wasn't home and that he didn't know where she was.

On searching the residence, police found a body later identified as Blanton in the bathtub, covered with a cloth and with sections of organs missing. Oberhansley was taken into custody and during questioning, told police he had broken into the home, stabbed Blanton and used a jigsaw to remove parts of her brain, heart and lung, which he consumed.

Charges were filed against Oberhansley within days, but it would be nearly five years of moving the case forward for it to make it to trial.

Part of that has been due to Oberhansley's mental status. He was hospitalized for more than six months at Logansport State Hospital in 2018 after Judge Vicki Carmichael ruled that based on the testimony of three mental health professionals, the defendant was not capable of participating in the proceedings of his case. In 2018, a report was filed from Logansport certifying he was competent, and he was released back to police custody.

But this wouldn't be the end of talks of mental issues. In September, Oberhansley's attorneys filed notice that the defendant was in fact not competent, and a motion stated he had become increasingly difficult to work with.

"Since returning from Logansport State Hospital, Mr. Oberhansley continues to express bizarre and irrational beliefs in meetings with defense counsel and defense investigators when discussing the case," the motion reads, in part.

"Mr. Oberhansley is suspicious, paranoid, uncommunicative and agitated whenever he meets with defense counsel and their investigators."

However, he was found competent again in November after the judge ruled based on new mental evaluations.

In January, the defense team filed a notice of insanity, which was revoked in June at Oberhansley's request. He told the judge during a May hearing on the matter that he felt using the defense would amount to admitting guilt to the jury, and that it would still mean being held in a mental hospital after the trial.

"I don't suffer from any mental illness," he said in court that day.

Arguments in the trial are expected to begin Wednesday. The trial could take up to two weeks.

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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