By Vanessa Papas
He brutally killed his ex-girlfriend, cut pieces of her organs and prepared a pan to fry them in. That was almost six years ago but Joseph Oberhansley has yet to be convicted. The 38-year-old has once again been deemed unfit to stand trial in a case that seems to have no finish line. His victim’s friends and family say they’ve had enough of waiting and are begging for closure.
Tammy Jo Blanton, 46, was allegedly killed by Joseph in her home after he forced his way inside. The two had only dated for four months but the relationship was turbulent and ended badly. Joseph became obsessed with Tammy after their break up to the point where he held her hostage for several days and raped her. Her friends say she was too afraid to press charges. The day before she was murdered, Tammy’s dad came to her home to help change the locks.
On the morning of September 11, 2014, police arrived at Tammy’s apartment, on the request of her family who had called to say she never arrived at work. They were greeted at the door by Joseph. On inspection of the property, they found Tammy’s body in the bathroom beneath a vinyl camping tent draped over the bathtub. It’s believed she had locked herself inside and that Joseph had kicked down the door. Her throat had been cut, she had been stabbed 25 times in the chest and three times in the forehead. Her torso had been sliced open and pieces of her heart, intestines and other organs had been removed – found on a plate and a frying pan in the kitchen, along with a kitchen skillet and tongs with traces of blood on them. A bloody pocket-knife was also found stashed in the back pocket of Joseph’s jeans, and he had fresh cuts on his knuckles. He initially confessed to killing Tammy but later changed his story, saying two armed robbers had broken into the property and stabbed Tammy.
During the investigation, more evidence came to light involving Joseph’s past violence and erratic behaviour. As a teenager, he was convicted of manslaughter for killing his 17-year-old girlfriend Sabrina Elder while high on meth. He shot her 17 times, just days after she gave birth to the couple’s child. Sabrina’s mom was at the scene and tried to protect her daughter from the rain of bullets. After shooting his girlfriend and her mother, Joseph put the gun to his head and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered his frontal lobe and damaged his brain. A year later, he pleaded guilty to manslaughter and was sent to prison. He got out of prison in 2012 after spending 11 years behind bars.
In late 2017, Joseph was found incompetent to stand trial for the murder of Tammy after hearing the testimony of three mental health experts but the following year a state psychiatrist found him mentally fit. The trial began in August 2019, but the judge declared a mistrial on the first day of testimony after a witness made several comments about Joseph’s drug history and criminal past – something it was previously agreed on would not be discussed during the case.
“It’s clear that my client has serious mental health issues and it’s problematic trying to have a trial when someone is not being properly medicated for their mental illness,” Joseph’s defence attorneys, Brent Westerfeld said. “I think that’s the significant problem here. From the nature of the case itself – the accusations – and just Joseph’s behaviour both in and out of court, there really is no question that he is incompetent. He can’t assist in his defence nor does he really have an understanding to the procedures.”
Joseph’s mom, Brenda Self, has also come to her son’s defence. She explained Tammy’s murder is just one part of a continuing string of trouble that started with the 1997 death of Joseph’s half-brother and father, each who died just weeks apart. “Since then Joseph has struggled with drug addiction and mental health issues,” she said.
Prosecutor Jeremy Mull, however, said that Joseph will be convicted at some point, it’s just a matter of when. “I do believe that it will go to trial and I do believe that he will be convicted. It is expected a new date for the retrial could be selected in the next few days. The family has been so patient. And it’s been something that has weighed on me every single day as the Prosecutor, the fact that this case was pending, untried, and this family hasn’t received justice yet.”