Courtroom Notebook: Inside the Joseph Oberhansley murder trial

Opening statements begin in Joseph Oberhansley murder, cannibalism trial

WAVE 3 News reporter Rachael Krause will be updating her courtroom notebook each day throughout the Joseph Oberhansley murder trial.

JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WAVE) – With 12 jurors and four alternates selected in Hamilton County on Monday and Tuesday, the group on Wednesday traveled back down to Clark County to begin the trial of Joseph Oberhansley.

The jury will be sequestered in Clark County, something that’s especially unusual in Clark County. The need to sequester a jury from out of the area arose from the large amount of pre-trial publicity and the need to find a jury that can be fair and impartial in the case.

Inside the Clark County Courthouse on Wednesday afternoon, additional security measures were in place outside Circuit Court 4, as we waited for the attorneys, the jury and Oberhansley himself to make their way to the courthouse.

Often, coming in and out of the courtroom for hearings, Oberhansley has something to say and Wednesday was no different. Escorted by deputies from the Clark County Sheriff’s Department, Oberhansley came in not in his typical jailhouse garb but in a suit jacket and button-up shirt, with a message ahead of his trial.

“State prosecution knows I’m not guilty in this case,” he said. “That’s why they dropped the death penalty. Two black male suspects broke into the house and killed Tammy.”

Jurors were brought into the courtroom Wednesday afternoon and instructions read to them by the judge on what the charges of rape, murder and burglary mean that Oberhansley is facing and what it means to be found guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

One unusual part of the start of Wednesday’s court proceedings was the swearing in of two ASL interpreters. One of the jurors chosen for the trial needs the interpretation into ASL to understand the proceedings, Judge Vicki Carmichael said, which the court provides for.

During the court proceedings, Oberhansley muttered under his breath at times, the phrase “I object” coming so loudly during opening statements that Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull gave a brief pause, turning around.

During his opening statements, Mull painted a picture of Blanton’s life, describing the 46-year-old and her life in Jeffersonville and work in Louisville. In April 2014, Blanton met Oberhansley, calling him JJ and the pair began dating, Mull said.

But things took a turn for the worse. The weekend before Blanton was killed, Mull said Oberhansley held Blanton captive in her home and raped her. On a Monday, Blanton packed a bag and went to work, staying with a friend for a few days until returning to her home to kick Oberhansley out and change the locks.

Police officers were called just before 3 a.m. on Sept. 11, 2014, by Blanton, when Oberhansley showed up trying to kick down the door to be let into the house, Mull said. Oberhansley left and so did police.

Mull told jurors that police came back the next morning when co-workers reported that Blanton never came to work. Inside, they found a terrible scene with Blanton’s body in the bathtub and her head cracked open, Mull said.

Oberhansley admitted to eating parts of her brain and other organs during an interview with police, Mull told the jurors. During that interview, Mull said, Oberhansley acted very odd at times, saying “things that sound crazy.”

Much of the evidence in the murder and police interviews will be presented by attorneys over the coming days of the trial. One detail of the evidence Mull told jurors about Wednesday was that 25 different stab wounds were identified on Blanton’s body, including four stab wounds to the face.

Oberhansley butchered Blanton, Mull said, adding “you wouldn’t kill an animal that way.”

Then, it was the defense attorney’s turn and it was brief. Defense attorney Bart Betteau said while both sides agree on much of the evidence, there can be more than one way to look at that evidence.

Speaking to jurors, Betteau asked that they consider that evidence from all sides. Betteau told jurors they’d be watching Oberhansley’s interview with police and asked them to “look and listen,” and “keep an open mind.”

After opening statements, Carmichael excused the jurors for the day, letting them go get settled in their hotel rooms. Jurors will be sequestered in Clark County until they reach a verdict in the case.

Court proceedings are expected to begin at 8 a.m. Thursday.

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