HAMILTON COUNTY — A five-year-old Clark County murder case will again be delayed after attorneys called off the second run of jury selection due to so many in the jury pool having knowledge of the case from media reports.
Joseph Oberhansley, 38, was set to go to trial two weeks ago for the murder and rape of his ex-girlfriend, 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton, in September 2014. But less than a day into testimony a mistrial was called, after a state's witness gave information on the stand about Oberhansley's criminal history and past drug usage. Both topics had been previously decided by both parties to be inadmissible to the jury.
The 15 jurors, selected from Hamilton County due to the extensive pretrial publicity in the Clark County case, were dismissed the same day, Aug. 22.
On Wednesday, state and defense attorneys were back in Hamilton County for jury selection, with hopes to start opening statements within the next several days. There were 75 people summonsed to court for jury selection but by 4 p.m., only about 20 were left who said they had not been exposed to details of the case through the news.
And that doesn't count attorneys questioning those jurors on potential hardships of serving, being interviewed about their ability to be impartial in the case or with attorneys using their challenges.
"We probably in all likelihood would have ended up with zero people out of 75 by the end of the day," Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said. "It just became clear that we were not going to be able to get a jury of 16 people selected from this panel."
But attorneys were aware of this before they got to the Hamilton County courtroom Wednesday morning — the defense had even filed an objection to the jury coming from this county last week, which was denied by the court.
"We knew it was an issue as to whether we could get a jury from Hamilton County simply because there was a huge amount of press when jury selection occurred the first time," defense attorney Bart Betteau said. "And then of course with the mistrial, there was a great deal of press about it coming back.
"We ran out of jurors simply because so many people were honest and said that they wouldn't be able to judge it just from the facts presented in the courtroom because they had heard so much outside."
What happens next is a pretrial conference to select a new county — one attorneys say is outside of the Louisville, southern and central Indiana media markets. But it could be January or February before the case will again go to trial.
"The family wants the case to come to a conclusion," Mull said. "I hate delays in criminal cases — I most especially hate five-year delays — but as a prosecutor I'm very tenacious and don't ever quit. So I'm not going to quit until I get this case to justice."
Defense attorney Nick Karaffa said despite the delays, Oberhansley is adamant about continuing with a jury trial.
"He wants his day in court; he wants to go forward with trial," Karaffa said.