This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
The bullet that lodged in Joseph Oberhansley's brain made him calmer, less violent, more mellow.
He regretted the drug-fuelled madness that led him to shoot his girlfriend to death days after she gave birth to their son. He would be a better man. He would stay away from drugs, from violence, from prison. Or at least that's what he told the Utah Board of Pardons and Parole during a 2004 hearing.
This decade-old promise came undone last week as Oberhansley was arrested and charged in Indiana with the gruesome murder of his 46-year-old girlfriend, Tammy Jo Blanton.
He is accused of stabbing the woman to death, mutilating her corpse, removing some of her organs and eating them.
Of the many questions that remain, chief among them are why was Oberhansley at home with his girlfriend on the night she was killed?
Prosecutors have said he should have been in jail, having violated the terms of his Utah parole.
This hangs heavy over the grisly details of Blanton's death.
They have caused a county prosecutor to resign and sent chills through the Utah criminal justice community, where Oberhansley began his descent into crime more than 15 years ago.
Murderous deeds • It was a cold day in early December 1998 when Oberhansley burst through the front door of his grandmother's West Valley City home and started shooting.
He killed his 17-year-old girlfriend, wounded his mother who threw herself over the teen to protect her from the hail of bullets and ultimately fired a shot into his own brain that landed him in the hospital for three weeks.
Oberhansley awoke in a haze. Doctors said the 17-year-old had given himself a partial lobotomy.
He told a Board of Pardons member five years later that he could hardly remember going to his grandmother's home that night, according to an audio recording of the hearing obtained by The Salt Lake Tribune.
He said he had zero recollection of the killing.
"When I came to, I didn't even know why I was in the hospital," he said at the July 1, 2004, hearing. "I remember being real, real, real intoxicated from my drug use and not really in the right state of mind."
It was in this drug-induced state that Oberhansley shot and killed Sabrina Elder, the mother of his newborn child, a woman, he told BOP member Curtis Garner, he will always love.
"I cannot stress enough how remorseful and regretful I actually am for this girl," he said at his 2004 hearing. "Being in prison is a punishment, but it doesn't hold a candle to what I feel emotionally, what I carry in my heart. Every day that goes by, I think of Sabrina."
When Oberhansley got to the Utah State Prison after being sentenced in 2000 to one to 15 years by 3rd District Judge Judith Atherton, he got two tattoos.
One is a portrait of Elder, adorned with the words "in loving memory."
The other, on his back, is a tattoo he told the BOP meant to brand him forever with the evidence of the crime he committed.
It is two words: "Murderous deeds."
Shattered lives • Oberhansley was booked into the prison on March 13, 2000. He was 19 years old.
His mother, who suffered a shattered arm and damage to her kidneys and liver as a result of the shooting, insisted her son was a good person whose life had been derailed by drugs after his father and brother died.
Elder's family, largely from Nevada, didn't buy it. They insisted 15 years behind bars was not enough time for what Oberhansley had done.
Oberhansley pleaded guilty to two second-degree felonies: manslaughter and attempted murder. He could have served up to 30 years if the sentences were ordered to be served consecutively. But, instead, the judge ordered they run concurrently.
"The sentence wasn't enough to begin with," Sabrina's uncle Bruno Irmer told the BOP in 2004. "There's a lot of anger, there's a lot of hurt. ... [Sabrina] is in our hearts, but she should really be in our lives. We don't have that. That's what we should have had for years and years and years. She didn't get a chance to be a mother."
The young couple's infant son, named for his father, was adopted by Oberhansley's aunt and uncle. Oberhansley told pardons officials that his son was his motivation to clean up his act, do better and make something of himself once released.
He spoke of starting his own business, staying clean, creating a life in which his son could find him when he was old enough and ready. A life where he could someday be the father he dreamed of becoming.
"I've tried nothing but to be better and change my life," he told the BOP. "I would like to, if I got out and established myself and had my life on the right track, maybe when he's old enough to let him be able to make the decision on his own if he'd want to get to know me. I want him to have nothing but a normal childhood."
At that time, he was in his mid-20s. He had graduated high school and had begun taking community college classes. He was evaluated as a good worker by prison staff. He hadn't gotten into any fights. He had no write-ups.
That all changed over the next eight years.
Oberhansley got into fights. He was cited for having drugs and weapons, among other things, according to Utah prison records.
Sentencing guidelines used in Utah to determine how much time offenders actually spend behind bars or under supervision suggested releasing Oberhansley after 88 months in custody, according to BOP records obtained by The Tribune. That would have put his release date in November 2007.
But the BOP didn't grant him parole for another five years.
He was paroled on July 10, 2012. Ten days later, he was granted a transfer to Indiana.
The Hoosier State • Oberhansley stayed out of trouble for eight months.
In March 2013, according to Indiana court records, he was arrested and charged with strangulation and resisting law enforcement. He was released from Clark County Jail on a $1,000 bond.
In April of that year, police arrested Oberhansley on suspicion of battery, but no charges were filed. Local authorities told Utah that they believed Oberhansley was the victim in the incident.
One month later, he was convicted of speeding.
This past May, Oberhansley was cited for driving a vehicle with a suspended license, but the charge was later dropped.
Among the conditions of his Utah parole was the requirement that he not commit any new crimes.
On July 22 the day before Oberhansley's parole was set to expire he was charged with criminal recklessness with a deadly weapon and resisting law enforcement after a bar fight. He was held on $25,000 cash-only bond an amount that was later reduced, allowing his girlfriend, Tammy Jo Blanton, to bail him out of jail with just $500 in cash.
The prosecutor who agreed to reduce the bond in this case resigned following Oberhansley's most recent arrest in Blanton's murder.
The only incident reported to the Utah Board of Pardons was Oberhansley's arrest in April 2013. Had the BOP known about the other incidents, spokesman Greg Johnson said, the board may have reviewed his case and extradited him back to Utah.
Ryan Harrison, parole supervisor for Indiana's 9th Parole District, which oversaw Oberhansley's case, told local media that Utah had been notified every time Oberhansley had a run in with the law.
"Everything was sent to them," he said to WFPL in Louisville. "I've read it myself."
The case • It wasn't like Blanton to skip out on work. So when she didn't show up on Sept. 11, her friends asked police to go to her home and make sure she was OK.
When officers arrived, just after 10 a.m., Oberhansley answered the door.
They found Blanton's bloodied body under a tarp in the bathroom of her home, according to reports. Prosecutors believe she was stabbed to death. An autopsy revealed wounds in her head, neck and torso. Portions of her skull had been removed.
But he didn't just kill her, according to Indiana arrest records, Oberhansley told police that he ate parts of her.
Oberhansley allegedly admitted to cooking and eating parts of Blanton's brain, lungs and heart, the arrest report states.
In his first appearance in court this week, Oberhansley allegedly told a judge that his name is Zeus Brown and he didn't commit any of the crimes with which he's been charged.
Prosecutors, who charged Oberhansley with murder, abuse of a corpse and breaking and entering, are considering whether to seek the death penalty against the Utah man.