Aaron Schaffhausen insanity plea accepted - Fox 2 News Headlines

Insanity plea accepted, change of venue denied in River Falls murders

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HUDSON, Wis. (KMSP) -

A St. Croix County judge on Thursday accepted Aaron Schaffhausen's plea of not guilty by reason of mental disease and defect to all four counts he faces in the murder of his three daughters at their home in River Falls, Wis.

The plea was filed Wednesday, ahead of Thursday's hearing. It was accepted at the start of the 9:40 a.m. hearing, but the judge made it known he was irritated the defense ignored his Dec. 14 deadline.

Defense Attorney John Kucinski argued Schaffhausen was still well within his legal rights to enter the plea when he did.

When asked why he chose to enter it now, Kucinski responded, "Because I'm worried about the court getting frustrated. That's why I did it."

So far, Schaffhausen has sat silent in every hearing. He hasn't uttered a word or displayed an emotion, but the brief, one-page brief filed in court speaks volumes.

When addressed by the judge over whether he wished to plead not guilty by reason of mental disease or defect, Schaffhausen nodded and spoke for the first time, saying only "yes."

Schaffhausen, 35, is charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of attempted arson in the deaths of his daughters -- 5-year-old Cecilia, 8-year-old Sophie and 11-year-old Amara Schaffhausen -- during a visit in July.

A request for a change of venue has been denied, and the prosecution on Thursday demanded the immediate disclosure of notes of defense experts who have met with Schaffhausen in jail.

Now, prosecutors can also begin calling their own experts to examine Schaffhausen while they work to find out what the defense already knows. Without a plea, the defense was not required to share anything.

"We have to ask the judge to compel it because they have advised they won't provide it freely," said prosecutor Gary Freyberg.

The judge told both sides he expects cooperation going forward, and said the trial will begin as scheduled since there is no other time on the docket.

As for the proceedings after the insanity plea, defense attorney Joe Tamburino explained that there will be two parts. The first will focus on determining if Schaffhausen killed his three children. If so, the second phase -- which could last three to four weeks -- will focus on determining whether he can be held legally responsible.

"When you bring up the issue of mental illness, you are going to involve a whole slew of different witnesses. There are going to be expert witnesses, psychologists. So much is going to be concentrated on: What's this person's mental state? Their history? Their testing? Their interviews?" Tamburino said. "It's going to open up a whole new can of worms."

As for how successful the strategy may be, Tamburino said he thinks it will still be "difficult."


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