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Insanity plea tossed in deaths of daughters

| Tuesday, April 16, 2013, 8:54 p.m.

HUDSON, Wis. — A jury on Tuesday rejected an insanity defense by a Wisconsin father who admitted killing his three young daughters in July, ruling that the man had a mental defect but still understood what he was doing was wrong.

Aaron Schaffhausen, 35, could receive a life sentence at a sentencing hearing to be set later. Jurors deliberated for about 3½ hours before reaching their verdict.

He had earlier pleaded guilty in St. Croix County Circuit Court to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of attempted arson. But he had maintained that because of a mental illness he was not responsible for killing 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia.

Evidence in the case showed Schaffhausen texted his ex-wife Jessica on July 10 to ask for an unscheduled visit with the girls. She consented but said he had to be gone before she got home because she didn't want to see him. The girls' baby sitter told investigators the children were excited when he arrived. The baby sitter left. He called his wife about two hours later, saying: “You can come home now, I killed the kids.”

Police arrived to find the girls lying in their beds, their throats slit and their blankets pulled up to their necks. White T-shirts were tied around their necks. Prosecutors said Schaffhausen did that to keep their blood off his own clothes as he put them in bed. Cecilia also showed signs of strangulation.

In his closing argument Tuesday, prosecutor Gary Freyberg told jurors that Schaffhausen was a manipulator who knew what he was doing and wanted to punish his ex-wife in the worst way imaginable.

“These children did not have to die. They died because their father made a choice,” he said. “He chose to kill them and betray everything that a parent stands for because he was jealous and angry.”

Defense attorney John Kucinski countered to jurors that Schaffhausen has a rare mental disorder, rooted in a deep dependency on his ex-wife. Kucinski said the only way Schaffhausen believed he could “solve” that problem was to commit suicide or homicide.

He cited a defense expert who testified the crime was a case of “catathymic homicide,” evident by months of unwanted fantasies or desire to kill his girls, followed by a violent act — then a feeling of relief.

“There is nobody involved in this case that deserves an iota of blame because they could not know how ill his mind is,” Kucinski said. “None of this is anybody's fault ... you just look at the guy and he doesn't look as sick as he is.”

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