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Kucinski said Jessica and Aaron met in college in Mankato and married after she got pregnant.
When they lived in River Falls in recent years, Aaron Schaffhausen took college classes in chemistry and physics but unexpectedly quit one day, just as he had done with previous jobs, Kucinski said. That irritated Jessica and he spiraled into deeper depression, playing video games, drinking and not engaging with his family, Kucinski said. She considered divorce but didn’t act on it until he was back working — this time in North Dakota — and taking medication, getting his life in order.
The couple divorced and on Jan. 9, 2012, reached an agreement that neither of them could remarry for six months.
Afterward, his behavior became more erratic, Kucinski said. He called his ex-wife incessantly and she urged him to get help, stop obsessing about her and work on being a good dad.
Freyberg said Schaffhausen had told other people he thought of killing his kids to get back at his ex-wife, because she would then have to live with that grief for the rest of her life. He made threats both while sober and drunk, Freyberg said.
In the weeks before the murders, he appeared to calm down, Freyberg said. He even registered with an online dating service, and went fishing with buddies.
“We know now ... that he was still thinking homicidal thoughts,” Freyberg said. “He was just hiding them.”
The marriage restriction contained in the divorce expired July 9. The next day, Aaron Schaffhausen killed his three daughters.
Freyberg conceded that Schaffhausen was depressed, but said he wasn’t out of touch with reality in any way. Obsessed with getting Jessica back, he viewed the girls as objects that he could use to get to her, Freyberg said.
“He killed because he wanted to kill,” Freyberg said.
For the defense to win an insanity plea, 10 of 12 jurors must be convinced that, because of a mental disease or defect, Schaffhausen lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to conform his conduct to the requirements of law. A jury of nine women and six men were picked Monday to hear the case. Three will be excused before deliberations begin.
Three mental health experts are expected to testify — one each hired by the court, prosecutors and the defense — and all will agree Schaffhausen had a major depressive disorder at the time, Kucinski told the jury. But only the expert hired by the defense believes Schaffhausen fit the court’s description of insanity, attorneys said.
“Nobody at all is to blame for what happened because nobody understood what was happening,” Kucinski told the jury. “They had no way to know what was really going on in Aaron’s head.”
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102