Trial Begins Monday for Dad Accused of Killing Wis. Girls

Updated: 03/29/2013 12:15 PM KSTP.com By: Cassie Hart

A North Dakota man accused of killing his three daughters was back in court Thursday for another hearing, and this time he changed his plea to guilty while maintaining an insanity claim.

Aaron Schaffhausen originally pleaded not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect in the last summer's slayings of his daughters in the River Falls, Wis., home where they lived with Schaffhausen's ex-wife.

The defense at his trial will now have to prove he had a mental disease or defect so severe that he wasn't responsible for his actions.

Schaffhausen spoke in a flat tone that lacked emotion as he answered the judge's questions about his new pleas.
    
"Are you pleading guilty because you are guilty?" Judge Howard Cameron asked at one point.
    
"Yes," Schaffhausen responded.
    
With the plea change, prosecutors won't have to prove Schaffhausen killed his daughters and or that he tried to set fire to their River Falls home last July.
    
However, the defense will have to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that he had a mental disease or defect, and that he lacked substantial capacity to appreciate that what he did was wrong or couldn't control his impulses.
    
Jury selection is to begin Monday in St. Croix County Circuit Court.
    
Schaffhausen, a construction worker from Minot, N.D., faces three counts of first-degree intentional homicide. His daughters, 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia, were found dead in their beds July 10. Their throats had been slit, and gasoline had been poured in the basement in an apparent attempt to burn the house down.

Prosecutors allege Schaffhausen did it to get back at his ex-wife, Jessica, because he was bitter over their divorce and angry because he thought she had begun seeing another man.

Jessica Schaffhausen was in the courtroom at a hearing Wednesday but took no part in the proceedings. Aaron Schaffhausen, in an orange jail jumpsuit and shackles, sat impassively at the defense table, staring at the table or floor for most of the hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg, the lead prosecutor, maintained that any concession by Schaffhausen of his guilt should not keep prosecutors from using evidence they have planned to use during that phase. The assistant attorney general wrote that evidence of motive, intent and planning could directly rebut Schaffhausen's claim that mental disease or defect makes him not responsible for his actions.

"If the killings were motivated by revenge, anger, jealousy, etc., they are not the product of a mental disease or defect," he wrote.

According to a criminal complaint, Schaffhausen texted his ex-wife on July 10 to ask for an unscheduled visit with the girls, and she consented. Schaffhausen arrived and sent a babysitter away.

About two hours later, he called his wife and, according to the complaint, told her: "You can come home now because I killed the kids."

To watch Thursday's court appearance, click here.

Warning: The criminal complaint contains graphic and disturbing details. Click here to read the criminal complaint.

The Associated Press Contributed to this Report.