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Alleged cannibal, murder case declared a mistrial in Clark Co.

Joseph Oberhansley’s attorney says it feels like a letdown but a mistrial ruling was necessary considering the state’s witness slip up.
Credit: Senait Gebregiorgis

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. — (WHAS11) -- It is the case that stunned southern Indiana five years ago, and on August 22 the judge declared it a mistrial.

The 15-member jury was released and a new trial date will be set.

Joseph Oberhansley is accused of brutally murdering his ex-girlfriend, Tammy Jo Blanton in 2014 and eating parts of her body.

After five years, day one of the trial started on Wednesday with the attorneys giving their opening statements.

The fifteen jurors were warned this is going to be a long trial with graphic images and horrific details. Eight of the jurors were females and seven were males

RELATED: Sequestered jury headed to Clark Co. in alleged cannibal trial

The defendant, Joseph Oberhansley, walked inside the courtroom clean cut in dress clothes. As he was walking in, he told reporters, “the prosecutors know I’m not guilty, that’s why the death penalty was dropped.” He also claimed two other men committed the heinous murder.

Credit: Tammy Jo Blanton

“It’s just something that just weighed on me every single day as the Clark County prosecutor," Clark County prosecutor, Jeremy Mull said. "The fact that this case was pending and was untried and that this family hadn’t received justice yet--today is the day that we start down that road in getting them justice."

During opening statements, Oberhansley interrupted the prosecutor multiple times saying, “you’re lying" or “I didn’t do it.” The prosecutor told the jury the evidence, in this case, will show Oberhansley intentionally raped and brutally murdered Blanton, ruling out insanity. A past agreement dropped the death penalty under one circumstance — the accused cannibal cannot plead insanity. He has three defense attorneys in this trial. During their opening statements, they told the jurors to “look at the evidence from all sides.”

“We believe his decision-making was a result of his mental illness and we believe that that makes this process unfair,” defense attorney, Brent Westerfeld said. “When a crazy person is deciding what his defense is, that’s a problem.”

After lunch on Thursday, the second day of the trial, the state called witness Dawn Victoria to the stand, a good friend of Blanton. Blanton had called Victoria the Monday before she was killed and asked if she could stay over after saying Oberhansley held her hostage and raped her over the weekend.

Victoria then said the reason Blanton didn't call police after that incident was because Blanton didn't want Oberhansley to go back to prison, mentioning his past drug use and criminal record, which attorneys had agreed not to mention in court. The defense called objection and the jury was dismissed. 

"The witness was instructed before she testified that this was off-limits, she was not allowed to mention it to talk about it and did so anyway. As a prosecutor, there's nothing I can do to control someone once I told them not to say something on the stand and they get in there and do that"  Mull said.

State attorneys argued the court should admonish the jury and defense attorneys argued for a mistrial. The judge granted the defense motion and declared a mistrial.

"None of that evidence was admissible and if you recall from jury selection a lot of jurors can be affected by that" Westerfeld said.

This means the attorneys must start all over with a new jury selection.

 "Feel like you were ready to go and suddenly you’re not ready to go anymore so it's definitely a letdown" Westerfeld added.

Some of the friends of the victim, in this case, were in tears after the witness slip up.

"As much as I would like to stand and argue hey we shouldn't grant the mistrial, let's just drive forward and do this thing, the fact of the matter is if we do that and get a conviction, and it gets overturned later because of this which is a high probability with this sort of evidence, then we can be back in that same posture again" Mull said.

There are about 100 people left in the jury pool. But this next selection will be challenging.

"So that can play into whether that jury pool has heard about this case several of them have heard about it during the jury selection and now that there's been publicity it might be more difficult to pick" Mull added.

Jurors were told they can now go back to the hotel, pack their bags, and a bus will take them back home. 

WHAS asked prosecutor, Jeremy Mull, how he will prevent this from happening again, he says he may remove that witness from the next trial.

The judge says the new trial should re-start in the first week of September.

RELATED: Psychiatrist finds Oberhansley competent to stand trial

RELATED: Death penalty off the table for Indiana man who killed, ate parts of girlfriend

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