Updated: 09/18/2013 3:32 PM
Created: 04/14/2013 6:33 PM KSTP.com
By: Maricella Miranda
Aaron 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, 35, also told a forensic psychiatrist that he aborted plans to kill his children two times before, said Dr. Erik Knudson, who had nearly a seven-hour interview this year with Schaffhausen.
For three weeks, Schaffhausen has been on trial in St. Croix County District Court to determine if he was sane during the killings of his children 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie, and 5-year-old Cecilia.
The prosecution rested its case Monday afternoon. The prosecution and defense began discussing with the judge jury instructions for deliberations.
Schaffhausen has pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide, but he maintains he's not responsible for the killings because of a mental illness.
The prosecution called Knudson, its medical expert, to the stand Monday morning. 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 killings happened July 10, 2012 at Schaffhausen's ex-wife's home in River Falls, Wis. Schaffhausen was alone with his daughters at the time.
Knudson described Schaffhausen's responses during the March 5 interview as "rehearsed information." Knudson said Schaffhausen suffered from a mental disease during the killings, but he didn't lack capacity to conform his conduct to the law.
Schaffhausen told Knudson that he was suicidal the week before the murders. He said he believed his divorce was caused by his depression, but his ex-wife didn't understand that.
During a March 2012 phone call to his ex-wife, Schaffhausen told Knudson that his reported threats were like a game of telephone. But his ex-wife overreacted to his comments and called the police, which might have made him begin to think about violence.
Day of the Murders
Schaffhausen said he never made threats against his children, Knudson testified. But Schaffhausen did think about his children dying, killing his ex-wife's boyfriend, as well as other people who possibly convinced his ex-wife to get a divorce.
Those thoughts prove that Schaffhausen was thinking about the killings as much as five days before they happened, Knudson testified.
Alone with the girls July 10, 2012, Schaffhausen told Knudson that he began choking and shaking Cecilia - the youngest - in her bedroom. He left the room to get a knife and sent his other two daughters upstairs with their sister.
Sophie entered the room first, Schaffhausen told Knudson. Schaffhausen leaned forward with the knife and in a rocking motion made two cuts to her neck. Then he cut Cecilia.
Amara came into the room, he told Knudson. Startled from all the blood, she jumped. Schaffhausen then leaned forward and cut her neck, he said.
After the killings, Schaffhausen cut off power to the home's furnace before spreading gasoline in the basement, he told Knudson. Schaffhausen said he knew the gasoline was flammable and could put him in danger, Knudson testified.
"This followed a very intense situation where he just killed his three children," Knudson said. "Mr. Schaffhausen, in the midst of trying to cleanup the crime scene and move the bodies of his children - and then make plans that he might burn down the house - had the mental awareness at that moment that his actions might put him in danger."
"I believe that this shows that he is exhibiting the capacity to conform his conduct at that time," Knudson testified.
Schaffhausen told Knudson that when he returned upstairs and saw his daughters he got distracted and forgot about the arson plan, Knudson said. Schaffhausen cleaned some of the blood in the carpet, changed his clothes, then left the house.
He made sure to leave before his ex-wife got home, Schaffhausen told Knudson.
Schaffhausen then drove aimlessly around, throwing items away from his car, Knudson said. He threw away a computer - which Schaffhausen said had emails and Facebook messages that he didn't want police to read, Knudson said. He also threw away tools, which Schaffhausen planned to use to break into his ex-wife's house, and a cellphone.
"Mr. Schaffhausen showed through his behavior that he wanted to get rid of things that potentially connected him to a crime scene," Knudson testified.
When Knudson asked if it was wrong to kill his daughters, Schaffhausen didn't respond.
Schaffhausen also said that he lied to his coworkers about his travel plans to Minnesota because he needed a reason a travel to the area, Knudson said. Schaffhausen told his coworkers that he needed to visit the Twin Cities because his ex-wife asked him to retrieve his belongings from the house, Knudson said.
"It's deception that he intentionally distorted information to come up with a reason that he would need to be there," Knudson said. "It does show awareness to what he was doing. It also shows that he's capable of conforming his conduct."
Knudson is expected to be the final witness for the prosecution.
Closing arguments in the case could begin as early as Monday. The jury could begin deliberating as early as Tuesday.
Previous coverage of the trial can be found here.
Read the criminal complaint here. Warning: Graphic content
Listen to the initial 911 call here. Warning: Graphic content