Joseph Albert Oberhansley, man who murdered and cannibalized ex-girlfriend, loses appeal

May 23, 2023

Joseph Albert Oberhansley, the man convicted of burglary and murder in 2020, in the slaying of his ex-girlfriend, Tammy Jo Blanton, has recently lost an appeal.

Oberhansley attempted to appeal against a life sentence, arguing that he was mentally ill at the time he committed the crime, which involved breaking into Blanton's home, brutally murdering her, dismembering her body, and eating some of her internal organs.  

Our previous post covering the details of the crime and initial sentencing can be read HERE<<

When Oberhansley committed the crime in 2020, he was on parole for a murder committed in Utah in 1998. When he was just seventeen years old, he murdered his previous girlfriend, Sabrina Elder, 17, the mother of his child, and almost killed his own mother in the process. He then made a failed suicide attempt when he attempted to shoot himself in the head in what was supposed to be a murder-suicide, but Oberhansley survived and went on to live with the bullet lodged in his brain.

He received a sentence of 12-years in prison after pleading guilty to manslaughter and while incarcerated complained of hearing voices in his head.

Oberhansley was also on bond for a 2013 incident where he had choked a man in Clark County and had multiple run-ins with the law. In 2014 he was charged with criminal recklessness and resisting law enforcement after attempting to flee police at high-speed. When finally apprehended, Oberhansley told police that his family were trying to kill him. He was then admitted to a local hospital where he began biting himself and claiming to be Zeus. From there, he was transferred to a psychiatric facility where he received treatment and medication. He would receive psychiatric treatment off and on over the years and was found on at least one occasion to be delusional and displaying symptoms of paranoia. Oberhansley’s mental illness did not go unnoticed by co-workers, who said he often claimed to be a God, heard voices in his head and often hallucinated.

The recent appeal against his life sentence for his crimes in 2020 claims that he suffered brain damage and thus profound mental illness, and wasn't fully responsible for his actions in the murder of Blanton.

After his arrest for the murder of Blanton and subsequent interrogation from officers, Oberhansley continued with the theme of believing he was the ancient Greek God Zeus, and said he had consumed part of the victim's brain in order to restore his third eye. He also spoke of evil entities "coming out" as he ate the victims heart.

During the trial, Oberhansley’s attorneys intended to plead insanity, however, Oberhansley himself argued against it at pretrial and thus the defense was withdrawn. The prosecution dropped the death penalty in return for an agreement that the defense would not highlight Oberhansley’s  mental health issues.

Part of being competent to stand trial includes a defendants ability to comprehend the proceedings and have the capacity to cooperate with defense attorneys.

Oberhansley was deemed unfit to stand trial in 2017, and underwent treatment at a facility in Indiana before being deemed competent to stand trial in 2019.

The defense argued that the suspect suffered hallucinations and severe weight loss, and medical professionals appointed by the court agreed initially that he was demonstrating behavioural disturbances; but with the assistance of treatment and medication said Oberhansley symptoms had improved enough for him to stand before the court.

In October 2020, Oberhansley’s attorneys filed for a notice of appeal to have his sentence reduced. The appeal, which took place this month, in May of 2023, also asked the Jury if they had adequate evidence beyond a reasonable doubt to damn Oberhansley to a life in prison without the chance of parole.

At the appeal, Oberhansley’s attorney, Victoria Casanova, said: “I’m not going to stand before you and pretend that what happened to Ms. Blanton was anything other than horrific and brutal. The jury made the first of two statutory findings but not the second. As such, the trial court had no authority to sentence Mr. Oberhansley to life without parole.”

The appeal document Joseph Albert Oberhansley vs. The State of Indiana concluded in part:

As this Court has stated previously, we “cannot foreclose the possibility” of considering for 7(B) purposes “the role of a defendant’s mental illness in the commission of a crime.” Helsley v. State, 43 N.E.3d 225, 229 (Ind. 2015). Yet, this case does not present the “exceptional and extraordinary circumstances” in which such consideration is warranted. See id. Although Oberhansley acted under delusions created by his mental illness, he “did not show restraint or a lack of brutality,” nor “any regard for human life.”

Oberhansley’s deviousness was also highlighted, showing that he dressed as an employee of Blanton's workplace to gain access, as opposed to his regular street clothes, and also lied to the victims loved ones who were concerned about her wellbeing when they failed to hear from her. He also left behind his cell phone at another location when he committed his crimes and lied to police about what happened to Blanton on the night of her murder- blaming two fictitious black males.

The court argued that if Oberhansley suicide attempt and subsequent brain damage was the starting point of his severe mental illness, it did not explain the string of crimes, including shooting his ex-girlfriend in the 1990s.

The appeal concluded: "Oberhansley penalty-phase jury determined, as required by statute, that the aggravating circumstances outweighed the mitigating circumstances. His LWOP sentence is not inappropriate. Consequently, the sentence is affirmed."

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