HUDSON, Wis. (AP/WCCO) — An agonizing 911 call from the mother of three girls who were murdered by their father was played in a Hudson, Wis. Courtroom Tuesday.
Aaron Schaffhausen, 35, says he was insane when he killed his three daughters but a prosecutor argued he was actually motivated by revenge against his ex-wife and carefully planned the slayings and destroyed evidence.
Jessica Schaffhausen was at work when she got a call from her ex-husband saying he was in town and wanted to visit the girls. She agreed to let him visit and as a babysitter testified Tuesday, the girls were thrilled to see their dad.
As the 911 call played in the courtroom, Schaffhausen's face remained expressionless, emotionless. The jury looked stunned at hearing the details of the call, even one juror appearing to wipe away tears.
Jessica Schaffhausen can be heard pleading with the 911 operator through tears, asking if someone could be sent to her home to check on her girls.
"My husband just called me and told me he killed my kids," she said to a 911 dispatcher.
The heartbreaking call continues as Jessica Schaffhausen speeds home to River Falls from her St. Paul job.
The defense introduced the 911 call as evidence, pointing to their argument that Aaron Schaffhausen was insane and obsessed with his ex-wife. Defense attorney John Kucinski told the court he had threatened her before.
Schaffhausen has admitted killing his daughters at their home in River Falls last July but is seeking to convince a jury he's not responsible due to mental illness.
The girls — 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia — were found dead in their beds, their throats slashed. A criminal complaint said Schaffhausen asked his ex-wife to visit the children on short notice, sent a baby sitter away and then killed the girls.
In his opening statement, Gary Freyberg, a Wisconsin assistant attorney general, rejected the mental illness defense.
Freyberg said evidence would show Schaffhausen brought the tool he used to cut his daughters' throats with him from North Dakota, where he was working a construction job.
Freyberg also urged jurors to note the date of the killings: July 10, one day after the expiration of a six-month period in which both Schaffhausen and his ex-wife, Jessica, had agreed in their divorce decree not to remarry.
Kucinski told jurors that Schaffhausen was spiraling downward in the months leading up to the killings and never got the help he needed.
Kucinski said Schaffhausen was prescribed several different antidepressants following the divorce. Kucinski said Schaffhausen sometimes mixed alcohol with his medication and his behavior grew increasingly erratic. He would call his ex-wife up to 30 times a day, Kucinski said.
Kucinski said Jessica Schaffhausen will testify that Aaron Schaffhausen threatened in March to return to River Falls, tie her up and make her choose which of their daughters to kill. Kucinski said Schaffhausen also told a cousin on the phone that he had been thinking of cutting his daughters' throats.
That cousin, Jessica Schaffhausen and others urged Aaron Schaffhausen's family to make him get mental health treatment or even commit him to a mental institution, the defense attorney said.
Schaffhausen's concession that he killed the girls transformed his trial into one that likely will determine whether he spends the rest of his life in prison or committed to a psychiatric institution from which he might someday be released.
Aaron and Jessica Schaffhausen divorced in January 2011. Court papers indicate their marriage had been rocky for several years and finally broke up after she discovered he had lied about going back to school.
Jessica and the girls stayed in the house in River Falls, a community of about 15,000 people about 30 miles east of the Twin Cities. Aaron Schaffhausen took a construction job in Minot, N.D.
According to the complaint, Aaron Schaffhausen texted his ex-wife on July 10, 2012, 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. He later called his wife to tell her he'd killed their children, according to the complaint.
Wisconsin requires at least 10 of the 12 jurors to find the evidence shows a defendant suffered from a "mental disease or defect" so great at the time that he or she "lacked substantial capacity either to appreciate the wrongfulness of his or her conduct or conform his or her conduct to the requirements of law."
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