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Schaffhausen's defense ordered to turn over mental health reports

Aaron Schaffhausen, a carpenter who lived in Minot, N.D., is accused of killing daughters Amara, 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5, at their River Falls home while his ex-wife was at work.

Article by: PAM LOUWAGIE , Star Tribune

Updated: January 31, 2013 - 10:53 PM

HUDSON, WIS. - Defense attorneys for Aaron Schaffhausen were ordered Thursday to give prosecutors copies of mental health experts' reports and underlying data used to form those reports by the middle of next month.

The order came in a motions hearing in St. Croix County Circuit Court after Schaffhausen entered an insanity plea earlier this month to charges that he killed his three daughters. That plea sets up a possible two-phase trial: one for the state to prove whether Schaffhausen committed the crimes, then, if necessary, one for the defense to prove whether he's not responsible for the crimes by reason of insanity.

Schaffhausen, a carpenter who lived in Minot, N.D., is accused of killing daughters Amara, 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5, at their River Falls home while his ex-wife was at work. He is charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and arson after authorities also found a gas fireplace turned on and gasoline poured in the basement. His trial is scheduled for April 1.

Schaffhausen's defense has had three experts visit the defendant in jail, where he has been held since July 10.

Prosecutors argued that they didn't want to be ambushed with new information at trial and that they need ample time to review defense experts' work if the defense plans to use it during the second phase of the trial. Psychological testimony in criminal cases can be fraught with uncertainty and misuse of experts, prosecutor Gary Freyberg argued. "The defense expert could bury facts that are directly contrary to his opinion and we would never know."

Defense attorneys argued that they shouldn't have to turn over notes and test results and other information -- only experts' reports. They also argued that they shouldn't be required to turn those reports over until 15 days before trial, when prosecutors will turn over evidence collected by their own mental health expert.

Defense attorney John Kucinski raised the issue of that time disparity in court: "Why is his 15 days?" Kucinski asked, referring to the prosecutor. "So he needs my stuff for his evaluator to do his?"

Judge Howard Cameron indicated that as the judge, he has discretion on setting those deadlines.

Although prosecutors are not allowed to use the mental health evidence during the guilt phase of the trial, Kucinski argued that turning over defense reports so early could help prosecutors in the guilt phase, anyway. "You don't give the state the story of what happened so they can use it in the first phase of the trial," he argued.

Kucinski said after the hearing that he will consider whether to appeal the judge's decision.

Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102

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