HUDSON, Wis. – After he walked into the River Falls Police Department on the day he killed his daughters, Aaron Schaffhausen sat motionless and unresponsive for most of a three-hour interview.
Leaning back in an armless chair in a tiny beige room, hands cuffed behind his back, Schaffhausen looked straight ahead most of the time. He cried a little when an officer read him his Miranda rights. He shook his head no when a paramedic asked to check on him.
Jurors in Schaffhausen’s insanity trial viewed the entire interview Wednesday, watching as a River Falls police officer tried without success to get Schaffhausen to admit to killing 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia. Schaffhausen pleaded guilty to the killings last week, and his attorneys are trying to convince the jury he should go to a hospital for long-term treatment instead of spending his life in prison.
For well over an hour in the initial interview, he didn’t respond to questions about whether he understood his rights or whether he needed anything. He didn’t react when an officer asked what had happened.
“Did you kill your kids, Aaron?” River Falls police officer Charles Golden asked in the video. “Did you kill the girls?”
The video gave the jury a chance to see Schaffhausen’s demeanor, watch his long silences and eventually hear a few of his words. Later Wednesday, Schaffhausen’s ex-wife, Jessica Schaffhausen, took the stand, giving calm and composed testimony about the couple’s history and marriage. Tears came only when an attorney showed her pictures of her daughters.
“Those are my babies,” she said, crying.
The video, however, showcased Aaron Schaffhausen’s lack of reaction.
More than 1½ hours into the interview, Golden started softly asking emotional questions, remarking that he could see pain on Schaffhausen’s face.
“No one is going to convince me that you have no feelings for these girls. No one. I can see it,” Golden told him. “If you know what happened to them I think that you owe it to them to tell me ... who’s going to be their voice, Aaron?”
When Golden talked about how the girls were found in their bedrooms, Schaffhausen leaned forward, sobbed and put his head down on the desk.
“You put them in bed together and you covered them up ... because you wanted them to have peace,” Golden said, adding later: “The devil doesn’t put his kids in the bed and cover them up. A father does.”
Golden asked if police needed to be looking for someone else, and Schaffhausen shook his head no.
“Did you kill them, Aaron?” Golden asked.
“I don’t know,” Schaffhausen responded.
As Golden continued to ask questions, Schaffhausen remarked that he was asking a lot without a lawyer.
“Do you want a lawyer?” Golden asked.
“I don’t know ... I don’t know what I want. I don’t know what I need. I want my girls back. I want a lot of things. Can you give them to me? Then quit offering the world like you have it, like you have the keys.”
When asked again if he wanted an attorney, Schaffhausen replied, “Yes,” ending the interview.
He would become obsessed
Wednesday afternoon, Jessica Schaffhausen walked into a nearly-full courtroom. She calmly answered defense attorney John Kucinski’s questions about the couple’s history.
Aaron had depression when they met in 1999 at Minnesota State University, Mankato, she said, but came out of it and got “very focused on school.” They dated and got married in 2000.
Aaron would become obsessed with things, she said. Once, he decided to bake bread every day and bought a dozen different kinds of flour, she said. He also had periods of depression in their marriage, she said.
They had the three girls by the time Aaron stopped working a construction job in 2008, she said. He took classes at University of Wisconsin, River Falls in 2009, only to drop out in March 2011, but not telling her right away. “He lied to me, broke my trust,” she said.
He wasn’t pulling his weight at home. He played video game for “eight hours or more” and she saw him drink alcohol every day. Meanwhile, she worked full time. She urged him to get help. In the summer of 2011, they talked divorce.
“Things needed to change,” she said.
They separated late that summer and filed for divorce, she said. He stopped talking to their daughters on the phone and called Jessica incessantly “30 times in a row ... he was mad at me ... I didn’t want to stay married to him.”
Jessica Schaffhausen’s testimony was cut short when attorneys argued over what kind of evidence could be presented. Testimony will continue Thursday.
Pam Louwagie • 612-673-7102