Editor's note: This story contains graphic descriptions and images that readers may find disturbing.
When police in Jeffersonville, Indiana, found Tammy Jo Blanton's dismembered body in her bathtub, it was draped with a camping tent with at least 25 stab wounds and blunt-force injuries on her throat, neck, nose, mouth, lips, fingers and chest, a prosecutor told a Clark County jury at a murder trial Wednesday.
"Joseph Oberhansley butchered Tammy Blanton like you wouldn’t kill a livestock animal," Clark County prosecutor Jeremy Mull told 12 jurors and four alternates who were bused to Jeffersonville from Hamilton County on Wednesday for Oberhansley's trial. "But this lady died with dignity."
Oberhansley, 38, is facing life in prison without parole on charges of murder, rape and burglary after authorities say he stalked, raped and killed Blanton, then ate parts of her body in 2014.
The prosecution and defense agreed to take the death penalty off the table if Oberhansley's attorneys agreed not to use insanity as a defense.
Since February 2017, Oberhansley's mental competency has been at issue, delaying the trial process. Three state psychiatrists and psychologists in 2017 found that he wasn't competent to stand trial, but after more than a year of treatment at an Indiana state psychiatric facility, he was deemed competent.
Oberhansley's defense attorneys, Bart Betteau and Brent Westerfeld, filed another motion to revisit the competency issue. They told Clark County Circuit Judge Vicki Carmichael on Wednesday that Oberhansley continues to show distrust and complains about the way he's being represented.
In April, Carmichael ruled that Oberhansley, who filed a motion to withdraw the insanity defense his attorneys promoted, could reject the insanity plea. Oberhansley told the judge he felt that using the defense would admit guilt and likely wouldn't work.
Clark County sits along the Ohio River, just north of Louisville, Kentucky. The jurors were selected from Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, to ensure Oberhansley will get a fair trial, Carmichael said. They'll be sequestered for the duration of the trial and unable to use any electronics.
Victim died 'with dignity'
Blanton and Oberhansley had been dating – and briefly lived together – in the few months leading to her death Sept. 11, 2014.
Just days before, Blanton had broken off their relationship and changed the locks on her Jeffersonville home, Mull told the jury.
The day before she was murdered, Blanton told her friends and coworkers that she was taking her life back, Mull said. She said she wasn't going to live in fear of her ex-boyfriend or stay at a friend's house anymore.
Mull told jurors that in the final moments before Blanton died, she'd locked herself in the bathroom, hoping to save her life. Evidence shows that Oberhansley forced open the door, he said.
During a videotaped interview with police that Mull said the jury will see during trial, when asked what Blanton said after he kicked the bathroom door open, Oberhansley said, "Truth be told, she really wasn't all that scared, surprisingly. Like she knew (she was going to die), you know what I mean?" Mull told the jury.
“In her last moments, she wasn’t going to give him the pleasure of seeing her scared," Mull said.
Although the defense isn't allowed to present evidence related to Oberhansley's sanity or state of mind, Betteau asked the jury to think about whether a person who eats the brain and heart of his ex-girlfriend is "thinking right."
"All I want you to do is to keep an open mind," Betteau said. "(The prosecutor) told you about a few statements; select evidence. But there's going to be a whole lot more."
Betteau told the jury that they'll see photos and hear testimony that's worse than what the prosecutor described in his opening statements.
"Her chest had been cut open. The heart was removed. The heart was eaten," Betteau told the jury. "I'm sorry that I have to go over this, but that's what the evidence is."
Betteau said the jury will hear Oberhansley talk about what was going on in his mind at the time in the video police interview. Oberhansley thought Blanton was going to kill him, and that she could hear his thoughts, Betteau said.
"Think about the process and say to yourself, is this someone who’s thinking right? His thought was that someone was after him."
The trial is scheduled to resume Thursday morning in Clark County Circuit Court.
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This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Cannibalism trial: Gruesome details jar jury in opening statements