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Lawyer: Wis. dad erratic before killing daughters

Published: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 12:11 p.m. CDT • Updated: Tuesday, April 2, 2013 12:13 p.m. CDT
Caption
(Jerry Holt)
This July 11, 2012 photo shows a poster with photographs of the Schaffhausen sisters: Amara 11, left; Sophie 8, center, and Cecilia, 5, right, at Greenwood Elementary school in River Falls, Wis. The girls' father on Thursday, March 28, 2013 changed his pleas to guilty but insane in the killings of his three young daughters last summer in Wisconsin, which means the defense at his trial will have to prove he had a mental disease or defect so severe that he wasn't responsible for his actions. (AP Photo/The Star Tribune, Jerry Holt)

HUDSON, Wis. (AP) — The attorney for a man accused of killing his three young daughters in Wisconsin said Tuesday his client was spiraling out of control in the months leading up to the slayings last July.

Aaron Schaffhausen, 35, last week admitted killing his daughters — ages 11, 8 and 5 — at their home in River Falls, Wis. But Schaffhausen is seeking to convince a jury that he's not responsible due to mental illness.

In his opening statement, defense attorney John Kucinski said Schaffhausen became increasingly erratic and obsessive after he and his ex-wife, Jessica, divorced in January. He says Schaffhausen called Jessica constantly and sometimes threatened to hurt her or the girls.

Prosecutors said before the trial began that Schaffhausen was aware of what he was doing, and killed 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia because he still was bitter about his divorce and angry because he thought she had begun seeing another man.

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, if he's judged sane, 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, her mother told police.

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. The girls' babysitter told investigators the children were excited when he arrived. The babysitter left. He called his wife about two hours later to say he'd killed their children, according to the complaint.

The girls were found lying in their beds, their blankets pulled up to their necks and white T-shirts tied around their necks. Their throats had been slashed.

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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