Just one seat remained open at the close of the second day of jury selection Tuesday in the trial of a Clark County man accused of killing and mutilating a Jeffersonville woman in 2014, court staff reported.
Clark County prosecutors and defense attorneys for 38-year-old Joseph Oberhansley, accused of the murder of his ex-girlfriend Tammy Jo Blanton five years ago, spent the first part of this week in Hamilton County, just north of Indianapolis, questioning dozens of potential jurors.
Although a Clark County case, both parties agreed in June to select the jury from outside the Southern Indiana, citing the severity of the charges and the amount of pretrial publicity as reasons for selecting potential jurors from a pool of up to 240 Hamilton County residents.
Court staff from Clark County Circuit Court No. 4, where the trial will be held, reported that selection closed Tuesday with 15 jurors selected. Attorneys previously said they plan to have 16 total — a full 12-member jury plus four alternates. But being so close at the close of the second day could change that.
Clark County Prosecutor Jeremy Mull said Tuesday that attorneys would decide Wednesday whether to pursue the 16th juror or move forward with 15. That decision will dictate whether opening statements start as planned Wednesday afternoon, or if that portion of the trial will be pushed to Thursday.
Mull said he was pleased with the jurors that have been selected at this point — attorneys have questioned roughly half of the potential 240.
"This has been a long time coming and I'm thrilled that that trial week is finally here and that I can finally seek to get justice for Tammy Blanton in the courtroom," Mull said
But the process has been challenging to attorneys at times, he said, especially when questioning jurors
"I think because of the nature of the allegations, a lot of the potential jurors just have very strong opinions about what they think should happen," Mull said. "And for many of them, they have had a difficult time saying they would be able to follow the law and the judge's instructions on how they should process the case."
Added to that is the amount of media attention the case has received since it was opened in September 2014.
"Another issue has been that many of the jurors, even this far north, have knowledge of the case through media publicity," he said. "So that has been a cause for many of them to be excused."
Oberhansley has been present in court both days of jury selection so far. He is represented by Indianapolis based attorney Brent Westerfeld, with Nick Karaffa and Bart Betteau as his local counsel. The defense team declined comment following Tuesday's proceedings.
Selected jurors are under sequestration, which Mull said is rare in a Clark County case, but necessary in this instance, to preserve the impartiality of the jury. Those selected will be in a hotel when court is not in session, with no access to electronic devices including phones or tablets. They will have limited access to TV, to prevent them some viewing information about the case.