Guilty but not responsible, Wisconsin suspect claims in his three daughters' deaths

  • Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 28, 2013 - 11:39 PM

Aaron Schaffhausen entered guilty pleas in the slaying of his three daughters, but he maintains that mental illness means he shouldn’t be held responsible.

– Jessica Schaffhausen sat in a courtroom and quietly cried as her ex-husband softly delivered the words that many had been waiting to hear: “Guilty ... Guilty ... Guilty.”

One after another Thursday, Aaron Schaffhausen admitted to killing their three daughters, 11-year old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia, in their River Falls home in July. It was a case one county prosecutor called the worst he’d ever seen.

Aaron Schaffhausen is still arguing that he should not be held responsible for the crimes, though, because of mental illness. His attorneys will attempt to prove that to a jury starting next week.

Defense attorney John Kucinski said after the hearing that his client decided to plead guilty to the crimes so they could get right to the heart of the matter: mental health.

“We just figured, well, let’s get to the issue, I guess,” Kucinski said.

Prosecutors had been poised to show a jury a stream of evidence that Aaron Schaffhausen cut his daughters’ throats, tried to set fire to the house where the girls lived with his ex-wife and phoned his ex-wife, saying he had killed their daughters on the afternoon of July 10.

They alleged that Schaffhausen, who was working a construction job in Minot, N.D., showed up near River Falls unexpectedly that day and asked his ex-wife if he could see the girls. She agreed but insisted that he leave the house before she returned home from work at 3:30 p.m.

When he arrived, the girls were excited to see their father and pulled him upstairs to show him their things, their baby sitter told authorities, according to court papers. She left soon afterward.

At 3:30 p.m., Jessica Schaffhausen answered her phone. “You can come home now, because I killed the kids,” her ex-husband told her, according to charges.

Police found each girl in her own bed, a blanket drawn up to her neck, dried blood on her face.

Wanted to hear him

Victim advocates whisked Jessica Schaffhausen out of the courtroom after Thursday’s hearing. Her uncle Flint Watt later said by phone that their family is satisfied with the progress of the case so far.

“In some ways it might make it easier for family members to not have to have all the details come out in a trial about guilt,” Watt said.

In the courtroom just before the plea, Jessica Schaffhausen paged through photos of the girls on her cellphone. Women sitting next to her put their arms around her.

“I think she wanted to hear him admit that he had done what he did,” her uncle said.

Asked how she was faring, he said: “She’s had her tough times, but she’s an amazingly tough woman.”

There was no plea agreement with prosecutors, and St. Croix County Circuit Judge Howard Cameron made it clear to Schaffhausen that there were no guarantees as to what kind of sentence he might get.

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