A jury Tuesday evening rejected her ex-husband’s claim that he was legally insane in July when he killed their three young daughters inside the River Falls home they shared with their mother. Now, with Aaron Schaffhausen headed to prison instead of a mental institution, she said, she felt safer.
“I can sleep a little easier in knowing that he’s got a lot of time to think about what he’s done … not just to me but, you know, to our families, the girls’ friends, the school,” Jessica Schaffhausen said in an interview with the Star Tribune. “He really robbed the world of some pretty wonderful people. I know every mom thinks that way, but they were really amazing girls.”
Family members gasped and cried quietly the moment the verdicts were read inside the St. Croix County Courthouse. Aaron Schaffhausen, 35, sat motionless, as he had through most of his two-week insanity trial.
Several jurors declined to comment after the court proceedings.
The jury’s decision means Schaffhausen will face a mandatory sentence of life in prison for each daughter’s death. The judge could decide to make him eligible for extended supervision after he serves at least 20 years, but could also decide he will get no chance at release. A sentencing date was not set but is expected to be this summer.
Schaffhausen admitted to the July 10 killings of 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia while on an unscheduled visit to the area from his home in Minot, N.D.
‘They got it right’
During the trial, his defense attorneys tried to convince the jury that Schaffhausen was insane at the time and should be sent to a mental institution instead of prison.
In the end, jurors agreed that Schaffhausen suffered from a “mental disease or defect” as defined under Wisconsin law, but they found that it did not cause him to lack substantial capacity to appreciate that what he did was wrong, or make him unable to control his actions.
“I feel very happy that the jury saw the truth of this case,” prosecutor Gary Freyberg said. “They got it right.”
Prosecutors pointed to a history of threats Aaron Schaffhausen had made and argued that he was manipulative and carried through with a plan to kill the girls to hurt his ex-wife in the most savage way he knew how after their divorce.
“Well, mission accomplished,” Freyberg told the jury.
Schaffhausen’s defense attorney and family said they plan to appeal.
Aaron Schaffhausen’s parents said the ordeal has been a tragedy for all involved.
His mother, Sue Allen, said she was grateful the jury acknowledged that her son suffered from a mental illness.
“We had hoped that he would get the treatment for that,” she said, calling the past months “a nightmare that we cannot wake up from.”
Depression vs. revenge
Defense attorneys argued that Schaffhausen was a troubled, depressed, mentally diseased man who was trying subconsciously to sever his dependence on his ex-wife. Using a diagnosis from a California forensic psychologist, they contended Schaffhausen suffered “major depression” accompanied by personality traits that caused him to lack the ability to control himself. It resulted in a rare “catathymic homicide,” they said.
Prosecutors argued there were less mysterious reasons: revenge, anger and jealousy.
They argued that Schaffhausen gained his ex-wife’s trust by stopping his threats of violence in the weeks before the crimes.
At the girls’ house that day, he tried to keep most of the house free of blood and tucked his daughters into bed after killing them so that when his ex-wife came home she would get the biggest shock possible, Freyberg argued.
Jessica Schaffhausen said she has gained strength from an outpouring of support.
“I’m really only able to be here because so many people have been so incredibly supportive and kind,” she said. “I know this really evil thing has happened, but all I’ve seen outside of that one act is a lot of good from people.”
Though she didn’t attend most of the trial, Jessica Schaffhausen gave composed testimony on the witness stand during its first week. She said Tuesday she wanted to do her best to make sure the truth came out as accurately as possible and justice was done for her daughters.
“I was doing it for them,” she said.
Staff writers Nicole Norfleet and Elizabeth Flores contributed to this report.