JEFFERSONSVILLE, Ind. – The judge presiding over an Indiana trial involving a man accused of raping, murdering and eating parts of his ex-girlfriend's body decided Thursday to grant the defense's motion for a mistrial.
The request for a mistrial came after a state's witness mentioned the prior criminal past and drug use of the defendant, 38-year-old Joseph Oberhansley. Tammy Jo Blanton was 46 years old when she was killed on Sept. 11, 2014.
The witness was Donna Victoria, Blanton's close friend, who said on the stand that her friend didn't call the police after an incident between the couple at the time because she "didn't want him to go back to prison." Blanton also told Victoria she felt Oberhansley had been "reformed," Victoria said.
The witness also mentioned a prior conversation between her and Blanton about drugs motivating his behavior.
"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.”
Bart Betteau, Oberhansley's defense attorney, said there's now a "skunk" in the jury box that will taint the way it sees him.
"The jury now knows he had a significant criminal record. He went to prison," Betteau said. "This would be a legal fiction to think that admonishing (the comments) would make them forget about that."
The rules of evidence generally don't allow the mention of prior criminal history unless a special exception is made. Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull told Carmichael he met with each witness prior to them taking the stand and instructed them not to mention either.
Mull, who agreed with the judge's ruling, said the case would likely have grounds to be overturned on appeal if the trial proceeded. Such a situation could set the case back years, once again, with pretrial motions and hearings.
"It certainly makes sense to delay with two weeks rather than another half-decade," Mull said.
In defense of his motion, Betteau said there's only one statement about Oberhansley's drug use that was admitted into evidence: a part of his videotaped interview with police in which he says he smoked marijuana and used "a little meth" the night before he killed Blanton, according to the attorney.
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 also has two additional pending criminal cases in Clark County. He was charged with strangulation and resisting law enforcement after he was allegedly caught strangling a man in a Jeffersonville home in 2013. In 2014, a few months before Blanton's death, he was also charged with criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon and resisting arrest.
Mull said the trial would likely start Sept. 4, but the defense and prosecution are still discussing the schedule. They'll pick jurors from the same jury pool in Hamilton County, Indiana, to ensure Oberhansley gets a fair trial.
This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Cannibal trial: Judge grants mistrial in case of Joseph Oberhansley