The trial of an Indiana man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and eating parts of her organs came to a halt Thursday almost as soon as it began, after a statement by a witness for the prosecution led the judge to declare a mistrial.
Joseph Oberhansley, 38, faces a possible sentence of life in prison without parole if convicted in connection with the 2014 stabbing death of Tammy Jo Blanton, 46, in her Jeffersonville home.
Opening statements in the trial took place Wednesday. As the third witness on the stand Thursday, Blanton’s friend Donna Victoria testified that Blanton had not called police after an incident between the couple because she “didn’t want [Oberhansley] to go back to prison,” reports the Courier Journal.
Victoria also spoke about Oberhansley’s prior drug use, according to WLKY.
Both topics had been ruled inadmissible by Clark County Circuit Judge Vicki Carmichael, and the references led defense attorney Bart Betteau to say her comments were tantamount to a “skunk” in the jury box that would prejudice jurors against his client, reports the Courier Journal.
“The jury now knows he had a significant criminal record. He went to prison,” said Betteau. Telling jurors to disregard those comments would amount to “legal fiction,” he said.
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Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said he agreed with the judge’s decision to void the trial, and he hoped to revive the case and start again as soon as possible.
“As unfortunate as this event was today, I don’t think it’s going to get us very far off track,” he said, according to WLKY. “I do expect to have this trial going in September, and by September sometime to have a verdict.”
After Oberhansley’s arrest in the case, he allegedly confessed to consuming parts of Blanton’s brain, heart, and lungs after her killing, Mull previously told PEOPLE. At the time of his arrest, Oberhansley was on parole following a conviction for a previous killing that occurred when he was a teenager.
Oberhansley had been ruled mentally unfit to stand trial for Blanton’s death. But that decision later was overturned after a psychiatrist wrote the judge to say the suspect’s competency had been restored during Oberhansley’s court-ordered stay at Logansport State Hospital.
Before the murder trial was halted, two of Blanton’s friends testified that her fear of Oberhansley after a break-up caused her to briefly move out of her home and ask her father to change the locks before she would return, reports WLKY. Even so, one of the friends said Blanton kept police on “speed dial.”
In 2000, according to court records cited by the Courier Journal, Oberhansley was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 12 years in a Utah prison for shooting and killing his child’s mother while in a “meth rage.”
Two more charges pending in Clark County accuse Oberhansley of the strangulation of a man in 2013, and subsequent criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon in 2014, according to the newspaper. Both incidents resulted in additional allegations of resisting arrest.