HUDSON, Wis. - Aaron Schaffhausen has pleaded guilty to three counts of intentional homicide and one charge of attempted arson. The River Falls father is charged with killing his three daughters, ages 11, eight and five in their home last July.
The upcoming trial will still begin on Monday. The burden of proof will now fall on defense attorneys who will argue Schaffhausen is not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect.
"He believes that he has a mental illness and he would like to end up in a mental health institute so he can understand how this could have ever happened to him and his girls," Schaffhausen's attorney, John Kucinski, told reporters.
"In phase two, technically speaking, we don't have to prove anything. It's their burden of proof," Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg said.
Both attorneys expect the trial to last at least two weeks. Kucinski estimates he'll call 20 witnesses to the stand. Freyberg said he would likely cut down his list of people he had lined up to testify.
12 jurors will hear the case and a ten person majority would be needed to determine if he is responsible for the crimes and if he goes to prison or a mental health institution.
"If a person is committed by reason of mental disease or defect, they're sent to an institution where they have the ability in some cases, depending on the security level, to walk the grounds, have day passes in the community and so forth," Freyberg explained.
Both attorneys did say if the defendant is sent to an institution, there is a chance he could be released decades later. "I told him the odds of him getting out are slim," Kucinski said when recounting conversations he had with his client.
If Schaffhausen is not found not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, and if a jury finds he understood the wrongfulness of his crimes, he faces three consecutive sentences of life in prison and at the very least 60 years on the three homicide charges. That would not include the sentence he faces for the attempted arson.
After the hearing, Schaffhausen walked back to the St. Croix County Jail, where he continues to be on suicide watch.
"His lawyer has told him not to cooperate and so he won't talk and therefore the sheriff doesn't have any choice but to keep him on that watch," Freyberg said.
"He has a lot of remorse. He's depressed. He's been depressed for a long time," Kucinski concluded.
Jury selection begins on Monday and opening statements are expected on Tuesday.
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