HUDSON, Wis – A few hours before he killed his three daughters, Aaron Schaffhausen checked out of a hotel in downtown St. Paul, took a book to the patio of the Liffey Irish Pub next door and read in the warm July sun while he sipped a Bloody Mary.
After a while, witnesses testified Wednesday, he moved to sit at the bar on the upstairs terrace and ate a leisurely lunch of a Reuben sandwich with another Bloody and a Leinenkugel’s.
He was pleasant and polite to his servers. When it was time to pay his tab, the bartender noticed he handed over his credit card with a shaky right hand.
Details of Schaffhausen’s actions leading up to his crime emerged from a St. Croix County courtroom Wednesday as prosecutors in his insanity trial called a dozen witnesses to testify.
Prosecutors started their case in the morning, after defense attorneys conferred with Schaffhausen privately, then came into the courtroom and rested their case. Schaffhausen told the judge he would not testify Wednesday on his own behalf.
Schaffhausen has pleaded guilty to murdering his daughters, 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia, on July 10 in the girls’ River Falls home.
His defense attorneys are trying to convince a jury that he had a mental disease or defect at the time and should not be held responsible for the crimes. If they are successful, he will be sent to a mental institution instead of prison.
Prosecutors contend that Schaffhausen was in control of his actions at the time and was not insane.
Through witnesses called Wednesday, they started to fill in details about threats he had made before the crimes and his actions in the hours leading up to them. Schaffhausen was living and doing construction work in Minot, N.D. at the time.
After he and his ex-wife, Jessica Schaffhausen, separated, he called his cousin’s wife, Dr. Allyson Hart, under the pretense of medical questions but always ended up talking about his devastation over the divorce, Hart testified.
“He felt like she had deserted him for no reason,” Hart said. When Hart asked him why he was no longer talking to his daughters, he told her they reminded him of everything he had lost, she said, and he knew that not seeing the girls would bother Jessica.
After learning that he didn’t want talk to his family about it, Hart said she encouraged Aaron to go to therapy but he balked at the idea.
A man who dated Jessica in the time surrounding the divorce also testified that he got a phone call from Aaron Schaffhausen saying that he should watch his back and that bad things would happen.
The day before the killings, Aaron Schaffhausen showed up at the Hertz counter of the Amtrak station in St. Paul and rented a car.
He stayed at the Holiday Inn that night. At the Liffey, he chatted with the bartender, telling her he was from out of state, just passing through on his way to visit his daughters. He mentioned something about a soccer game, she testified.
Though Schaffhausen looked tired, bartender Hannah Ackerley said, he seemed friendly enough. He lingered on the terrace for at least an hour and a half.
When he asked for the bill, he took his credit card out of the wallet in his back pocket and handed it over, and Ackerley noticed his right hand tremble.
“It was an unmistakable shake,” Ackerley said. He left before she had a chance to say goodbye.