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Teen pleads guilty to slaying girlfriend

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A dead father and brother, a drug binge and lack of sleep made for a deadly combination the night Joseph Oberhansley arrived at his grandmother's West Valley home on Dec. 9, 1998.

Apparently without being provoked, Oberhansley walked into the house, pulled a gun out of a bag and shot his girlfriend, Sabrina Elder, who just days before had given birth to the couple's child. After several shots, one fatal bullet hit her in the head. Oberhansley, 18, then shot and wounded his mother, Brenda Lee Self, before turning the gun on himself.

His apparent suicide attempt failed, and Friday morning in 3rd District Court, Oberhansley pleaded guilty to manslaughter for killing his girlfriend and attempted murder for shooting his mother. Both crimes are second-degree felonies.

Oberhansley was originally charged with murder, a first-degree felony, but prosecutors agreed to the plea bargain after Oberhansley's mother and grandmother, both eyewitnesses to the crime, and other family members were hesitant to cooperate with the investigation.

"Neither side of the family are terribly pleased with the resolution," said prosecutor Paul Parker.

Parker also said Oberhansley's state of mind at the time of the shooting would have also made it difficult for a jury to come back with a murder conviction.

"There are just certain things that went on that are going to be testified by the defense that give a weakness to the case," Parker said.

Oberhansley, 17 at the time, admitted he was under "severe emotional distress" that night. His father had died recently, and his brother had committed suicide.

"This was not an intentional act," said Oberhansley's defense attorney, Ronald Yengich. "All of the stressors involved in Joseph's life at the time led up to this. It is likely that outside of those factors this never would have happened."

Yengich called the plea deal a "fair compromise" and added that the injury Oberhansley sustained from shooting himself in the head has actually made him a calmer person.

"The injury he sustained actually has had a beneficial affect because of the portion of the brain that was injured," Yengich said.

After the plea agreement was completed, Judge Judith Atherton ordered Oberhansley to be taken into custody. Oberhansley could be in prison for up to 15 years should Atherton impose the maximum penalty at sentencing on March 13.

As part of the plea bargain, prosecutors agreed to recommend that Oberhansley's sentences run concurrently.