Schaffhausen Expected to Use Insanity Defense
Wisconsin prosecutors are bracing for Aaron Schaffhausen--the man accused of killing his three daughters in River Falls this past August--to plead not guilty by reason of insanity.
Wednesday in St. Croix County Circuit Court, they asked that Schaffhausen's defense attorneys make a decision on the plea, so they can plan their legal strategy.
"There isn't evidence to support it really," said lead prosecutor Gary Freyberg. "But our concern is if they're investigating it we don't want the trial to be delayed and we don't want this to be a last minute rush job."
Outside of court, he added, "If there's going to be an insanity defense, let's get the proper examiners appointed and explore whether or not that's a viable defense."
The judge gave the defense until mid-December to present its plans to the court.
Then, in the midst of multiple pre-trial motions, prosecutors said they believed Schaffhausen killed 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie, and 5-year-old Cecilia in order to cause as much harm to his ex-wife Jessica, as he possibly could.
Schaffhausen sat motionless through the hearing. Family members of this three slain daughters listened intently, just a row behind him.
Judge Howard Cameron denied several defense motions, including one to drop the arson charge against Schaffhausen. At the time of the girls' death, authorities said the gas fireplace at the crime scene had been turned on, and a flammable liquid was found in the basement.
Schaffhausen's public defender, John Kuchinski, then asked the court to ban television coverage of the trial, saying cameras in the courtroom would prejudice jurors. "Media should not be allowed in high profile cases such as this," he argued. "I think the Casey Anthony case proves that, and to be honest with you, O.J. Simpson proved it."
But outside court, Freyberg, who is also Wisconsin Assistant Attorney General. pointed out, "Casey Anthony, remember, was acquitted, as was O.J. So it doesn't look like in either one of those cases the media coverage negatively impacted the defendants' right to a fair trial there."
(Casey Anthony is the Florida mother tried for the first degree murder of her two-year-old daughter daughter, Caylee Marie Anthony. Her skeletal remains were found in a wooded area near her home on December 11, 2008. Casey Anthony, was acquitted of murder but convicted of misdemeanor counts of providing false information to police officers. O.J. Simpson was aquitted of killing his wife Nicole and her friend Ron Goldman in 1995.)
The judge said he'd rule on the camera issue next week
The defense then brought up concerns about comments Schaffhausen made that were captured on tape after his arrest. Kuchinski said, "He uttered some things and I believe they (prosecutors) want to say that, and his actions, are an implied admission in some sense."
The judge said he would review the entire three and a half hour tape before making a ruling.
Prosecutors are also planning for the defense to ask for a change of venue--something they don't think is necessary. The judge said if a motion is made, he'll rule on it in January.
Schaffhausen faces mandatory life in prison if convicted. His trial is expected to begin in April.
Mark Saxenmeyer can be reached at email@example.com