Family Reacts to Schaffhausen Verdict, Defense Plans Appeal

Updated: 04/17/2013 12:24 PM KSTP.com By: Cassie Hart

Aaron Schaffhausen was not insane when he killed his three daughters last July at his ex-wife's home in River Falls, Wis.

After more than three hours of deliberations - a jury found Schaffhausen had a mental disease or defect during the killings of 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie, and 5-year-old Cecilia.

But Schaffhausen didn't lack the substantial capacity to appreciate the wrongfulness of his conduct or to abide by the law, the jury ruled. The ruling rejected Schaffhausen's insanity defense.

The verdict convicts Schaffhausen of three counts of first-degree homicide, and a charge of an attempted arson.

Schaffhausen will likely be sentenced to life in prison. He could be eligible for parole after 20 years served. Judge Howard Cameron, who presided over the trial, is scheduled to sentence Schaffhausen sometime in July.

The defense said they plan to appeal the verdict.

Family and friends were in the St. Croix District Court in Hudson, Wis. to hear the jury's verdict. Twelve jurors deliberated on the verdict.

The trial's closing arguments began Tuesday.

Earlier in the case, Schaffhausen pleaded guilty to homicide and attempted arson charges in his daughters' killings. However, he maintained that he wasn't responsible for killing his daughters because of a mental illness, which prompted the insanity trial.

The killings happened July 10, 2012 while Schaffhausen was alone with his daughters.

During closing remarks, the prosecution said Schaffhausen wrapped his daughters' slashed necks with white T-shirts and tucked them into their beds before leaving his ex-wife's home.

He wanted to disguise the deaths and shock his ex-wife by the killings, said Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg, the prosecutor in the trial. 

Schaffhausen wanted his ex-wife to find each daughter dead in their beds, Freyberg said. Schaffhausen is self-centered and lacks empathy, Freyberg added.

"He's in jail for murdering his children and he thinks he got a raw deal out of life," Freyberg said.

The defense argued that Schaffhausen's actions can be described as "catathymic homicide." Depression and a personality disorder prevented Schaffhausen from controlling himself, said Schaffhausen's attorney John Kucinski. 

Prosecution: Schaffhausen Obsessed With Revenge

Schaffhausen chose to kill his children because he was jealous and angry about his ex-wife divorcing him and dating someone new, Freyberg said. Schaffhausen also wanted his ex-wife, Jessica, to go to the house where their three daughters were murdered, Freyberg said.

Freyberg called Schaffhausen a manipulator and legally sane during the time of the crimes. "He knew what he was doing was wrong and he did it anyway."

Legal insanity is not someone who is mean or selfishly obsessed with revenge, Freyberg said. What Schaffhausen wanted was worth the lives of innocent people, Freyberg said.

Schaffhausen's birth and childhood had nothing to do with the crimes, Freyberg said. Schaffhausen used his children as leverage against his ex-wife. He would hang up the phone if the children answered, instead of his ex-wife, Freyberg said.

Before the killings, Schaffhausen told people he was mentally feeling better. He didn't want to arouse suspicion, Freyberg said.

On July 9 and 10, Schaffhausen didn't tell anyone that he was going to the Twin Cities. He also destroyed papers and journals so police wouldn't find them, Freyberg said. Schaffhausen bought a one-way ticket from North Dakota, where he was living, to Minnesota. He also brought two sharp instruments with him.

During the killings, Schaffhausen reportedly wrapped his children's slashed necks with white T-shirts and cleaned blood from the carpet. He also placed his daughters in their correct beds, pulled the covers up to their chins and kissed them, Schaffhausen told investigators and doctors.

"You cannot believe what he said," Freyberg said. "Really? We're supposed to believe that he kissed them goodnight after killing them," Freyberg said.

He also had time to shower, change clothes, wash some of the bloody clothes, clean the murder weapon and spread gasoline in the basement, Freyberg said.

This was "controlled, purposeful conduct," he said.

Schaffhausen only showed emotions after the killings when police arrested him. "He cried, but who is he crying for? Freyberg said.

The defense's medical expert Dr. J. Reid Meloy called Schaffhausen's behavior "catathymic homicide." But Freyberg argued that Schaffhausen could explain his behavior and had a plan for the killings. He also had a choice to kill himself or his children, Freyberg said.

Plus, Schaffhausen was conscious enough to turn off the furnace when he poured gasoline around the basement after the killings, Freyberg said. He knew enough to protect himself.

Freyberg asked the jury to rule that Schaffhausen was either sane or insane during the killings. The jury has to rule unanimously for each charge to convict him of it.

Defense: Schaffhausen Loved His Children

In his closing arguments, Schaffhausen's attorney described his client's actions as psychogenetic killings that rose from mental disease and a personality disorder.

"No one in this trial testified that he did not love his girls," said John Kucinski, Schaffhausen's attorney. "So you have this love and this horrific act of your own flesh and blood."

In Schaffhausen's mind, "only suicide or homicide" could solve his problem.

Meloy, the defense's medical expert, determined that Schaffhausen had a major mental disease and a personality disorder, Kucinski said. Meloy said Schaffhausen lacked substantial capacity to conform his conduct to the requirements of the law.

Schaffhausen also told the prosecution's medical expert, Dr. Erik Knudson, that he was out of control at the time of the killings, Kucinski said. Schaffhausen told Knudson that he had been fantasizing about violence, including strangling and cutting people's throats.

But Knudson called those fantasies normal, Kucinski said.

Knudson - who testified against Schaffhausen - has limited expertise regarding Schaffhausen's rare illness, Kucinski said.

Prosecutors rested their case Monday after testimony from Knudson, a forensic psychiatrist.

Schaffhausen reportedly said he had reoccurring images of violence against his children, his ex-wife and her new boyfriend months before killing his three daughters.

Schaffhausen told Knudson, during a nearly seven-hour interview earlier this year, that he aborted plans to kill his children two times before.

Knudson testified that Schaffhausen had major depression, alcohol dependency and an antisocial personality disorder. Schaffhausen's depression was not relevant in the killings, Knudson said. Also, Schaffhausen's personality disorder is not mental illness, Knudson said.

Instead, he characterized it as a pattern of behavior that allows Schaffhausen to disregard the rights of other people.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Read the criminal complaint here. Warning: Graphic content

Listen to the initial 911 call here. Warning: Graphic content