JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WAVE) - Nearly five years since Tammy Jo Blanton’s death, the murder trial for her alleged killer has begun.
Jury selection began Monday morning in Hamilton County, north of Indianapolis.
Joseph Oberhansley was present as attorneys slowly whittled down the hundreds of potential jurors into the selected few that will come down to Clark County and be sequestered for the trial.
The process has been a slow one as both attorneys for Oberhansley and the Clark County prosecution team are being very selective in choosing their jurors. Of the more than 200 potential jurors, they’ll choose 12 jurors and four alternates for the trial.
“With all of the issues that we have in this case, the jury selection is taking a long amount of time, but that’s a good thing,” Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said. “These jurors are being thoroughly vetted and we are going to end up with a jury that is able to hear the case without any sort of predispositions that are going to cause problems later on down the case.”
Potential jurors were asked a number of personal questions, including if previous instances of murder or rape in their past would influence their opinions about the case and if their personal beliefs would allow them to be fair and impartial on a possible prison sentence if Oberhansley is found guilty.
Oberhansley is accused of stabbing and killing Tammy Jo Blanton in September 2014. Her body was discovered by police officers in her bathtub with part of her skull appearing to be crushed and brain tissue scattered nearby, according to court documents.
According to the probable cause affidavit, Oberhansley admitted to police that he’d eaten parts of Blanton’s brain, as well as her heart and part of one of her lungs.
In the courtroom Monday, Oberhansley sat quietly as jurors were selected. As of Monday evening, eight jurors had been selected.
“What I have wanted all along is a verdict that is going to stand, that is going to stand appellate review,” Mull said. “And so the fact that we were able to pick eight jurors (Monday) after several hours of voir dire is a great development in the case and I hope that by the end of the day (Tuesday), we will have this jury selected and be able to start our proof by Wednesday or Thursday.”
In court, some jurors told the attorneys that they’d heard of this case either through news coverage or through social media. Mull said it was important to select a jury far away from Clark County to ensure that the jury they do seat hasn’t been impacted by previous coverage of the case and is able to be fair and impartial, though sequestering them is a more unusual step.
“Sequestering the jury is done in only a very small percentage of cases,” Mull said. “There have been few cases that I’ve been involved with as prosecutor where we’ve sequestered the jury. Most of the time it’s not necessary but this case has received an extensive amount of pre-trial publicity. It’s been covered by the national cable networks in the past. With the dangers in the case of the jurors seeing extraneous information, it’s necessary in this case to keep them sequestered so that the verdict stands.”
Mull said sequestration, while uncommon, ensures jurors don’t have access to information during the trial they aren’t supposed to see or hear about and can ensure the verdict in the case isn’t challenged at a later date.
“It’s unusual, but it’s an unusual sort of case,” Mull said.
Once the jury is selected, the judge has advised them to prepare for sequestration in Clark County, including packing what they need for the duration. Jurors were advised not to pack cell phones, electronics or e-readers and to not speak with anyone about the trial.
Opening statements are expected to begin in Clark County on Wednesday afternoon.