JEFFERSONVILLE, Ind. (WDRB) -- The judge has declared a mistrial in the case of a man accused of killing his ex-girlfriend and eating parts of her body.
Joseph Oberhansley is facing murder, rape and other charges, after prosecutors say he killed Tammy Jo Blanton in her Jeffersonville home in September 2014. Court documents say he mutilated her body and cooked and ate some of her organs.
Defense attorneys requested the mistrial after a witness brought up Oberhansley's past drug use and previous time in prison during testimony. The defense objected and the jury was then ushered out of the courtroom. The mistrial was declared when the jury returned after lunch.
Calling it the "skunk in the room," defense attorney Bart Betteau said information about Oberhansley's drug and prison history was not supposed to be admitted into the trial. He added that it would improperly bias the jurors, adding that it would be "all the jury will be able to think about."
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull acknowledged that the information could be prejudicial but said the issue could simply be resolved by bringing the jury back into the courtroom and ordering them not to consider Oberhansley's past drug use in their deliberations.
The incident came after the state's third witness testified as to why Blanton did not call police after she told the witness, on the Monday before she was murdered, that she had been raped and held captive by Oberhansley over the weekend. The witness said that Blanton knew about his past with drugs, which the witness said probably contributed to the assault. And she said that Blanton "didn't want him to go back to prison and thought that he'd been reformed."
Earlier on Thursday, prosecutors called two other witnesses to the stand, including Blanton's best friend Sabrina Hall. Hall said she could tell "something was off" in the week leading up to Blanton's murder because they weren't talking a lot.
Hall told jurors she called Blanton's cellphone on the day she was murdered when she didn't show up for work, and Oberhansley answered. She said he identified himself as Blanton's brother, Jason, but Hall said she knew it wasn't Jason's voice.
That's when she said she called 911 to request a welfare check.
"I knew it was bad," she said. "The 911 operator said the police was there and would update me, but no one would give me information."
Defense attorney Bart Betteau noted that she was not a witness at the house, and Hall replied, "No, but I was there after, and I know more than I want now."
The next witness on the stand was Blanton's friend and co-worker, Tessa Shepherd. She testified that Blanton told her the Monday before she was murdered that she had been "a victim of sexual abuse all weekend." She also testified that Blanton told her she had a bag packed and was planning to stay with a friend, because she was afraid of Oberhansley.
Shepherd said she and Hill decided to drive to Blanton's house while police were there. That's when she said they saw the police tape "and Tammy was dead."
Carmichael set a new court date for Sept. 3. A new jury will need to be selected.
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