The trial of a man accused of raping, murdering and eating parts of his ex-girlfriend's body has ended in a mistrial.
Joseph Oberhansley, 38, is facing life in prison without parole on charges of murder, rape and burglary after prosecutors say he stalked, raped, and killed 46-year-old Tammy Jo Blanton before eating parts of her body in 2014.
His trial began Wednesday in Jeffersonville, Indiana, in Clark County Circuit Court, but was quickly cut short after a state’s witness mentioned his criminal past and previous drug use.
The witness was a close friend of Ms Blanton. She said during the trial in that her friend didn’t called the police following an incident between her and Oberhansley because she “didn’t want him to go back to prison.” She also mentioned a conversation she had with her friend about the influence of drug use on Oberhansley’s behaviour.
"This puts him in great peril," Clark County circuit judge Vicki Carmichael said in open court Thursday. "A simple admonishment to disregard [the comments] would be insufficient and certainly would not clear the prejudices created by the witness' testimony.”
The prosecution agreed. The trial will likely resume in September, with a jury pulled from the same pool.
Clark County prosecutor Jeremy Mull told jurors on Wednesday that "Joseph Oberhansley butchered Tammy Blanton like you wouldn’t kill a livestock animal."
Mr Mull told the court that Oberhansley killed Ms Blanton at her home, forcing down the door to her bathroom, where she had been hiding to try to save her life.
In a videotaped interview with the police, Oberhansley described the murder in chilling terms, saying "Truth be told, she really wasn't all that scared, surprisingly. Like she knew [she was going to die], you know what I mean?"
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“In her last moments,” Mr Mull told jurors, “she wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of seeing her scared.”
Oberhansley’s mental competence has already delayed the trial by several years. In the now cancelled trial, prosecutors agreed not to pursue the death penalty in exchange for the defendant promising to not use insanity as a defence.
But Oberhansley's attorney Bart Betteau told jurors on Wednesday that he hoped they’d “keep an open mind” regarding his client’s state of mind.
"Her chest had been cut open. The heart was removed. The heart was eaten," Mr Betteau said. "I'm sorry that I have to go over this, but that's what the evidence is. Think about the process and say to yourself, is this someone who’s thinking right?”
In 2000, Oberhansley was sentenced to 12 years in the Utah State Prison for manslaughter after he shot and killed the mother of his child in a "meth rage," according to court records. He also shot his mother, shot at his sister and infant son, and then shot himself in the head and survived.
He was also charged with strangulation and resisting law enforcement in Clark County in 2013. In 2014, before Blanton's death, he was charged with criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest in the same county. Both criminal cases are still pending.