Aaron Schaffhausen enters plea of not guilty by insanity - Dallas News | myFOXdfw.com

Schaffhausen enters plea of not guilty by insanity in River Falls murders

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Aaron Schaffhausen, the father of three girls found slain in their mother's home, has officially entered a plea of not guilty by reason if mental disease and defect to all four counts he faces in the deaths.

On Wednesday, the plea was filed in St. Croix County -- 33 days after the court issued a deadline for an insanity plea.

Schaffhausen has been charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of attempted arson in the deaths of his daughters.

The 35-year-old from Minot, ND, is accused of killing 5-year-old Cecilia, 8-year-old Sophie and 11-year-old Amara Schaffhausen during a visit in July.

The judge had set a Dec. 14 deadline for an insanity plea earlier, saying a flexible plea timeframe could complicate the case.

A hearing is set for Thursday. For now, court clerks say the trial is still set to begin on April 1; however, the plea could push back the trial date -- and the trial itself could last longer with all the testimony an insanity plea will bring.

So far, Schaffhausen has sat silent in every hearing. He hasn't uttered a word or displayed an emotion, but the brief, one-page brief filed in court speaks volumes.

"The only option Mr. Schaffhausen would have would be to claim insanity," said criminal defense attorney Joe Tamburino, who said he's not surprised at all by the plea.

Tamburino is licensed in both Minnesota and Wisconsin, and he told FOX 9 News there is a big difference between the two states when it comes to an insanity plea.

"In Wisconsin, they have what's called 'substantial capacity defense,'" he explained. "He would have to not be able to understand the nature of his acts. It's a little bit easier of a burden to show than in Minnesota. In Minnesota, you basically have to not understand anything -- you just don't know what you are doing."

If the experts have not yet examined Schaffhausen yet, Tamburino says the trial date could be pushed back. When it begins, he says it won't be a quick process.

Tamburino explained that there will be two parts. The first will focus on determining if Schaffhausen killed his three children. If so, the second phase -- which could last three to four weeks -- will focus on determining whether he can be held legally responsible.

"When you bring up the issue of mental illness, you are going to involve a whole slew of different witnesses. There are going to be expert witnesses, psychologists. So much is going to be concentrated on: What's this person's mental state? Their history? Their testing? Their interviews?" Tamburino said. "It's going to open up a whole new can of worms."

As for how successful the strategy may be, Tamburino said he thinks it will still be "difficult."

"In a case like this, Schaffhausen -- according to the complaint -- was making calls to the home, talking to the ex-wife. Hours went by by the time he got to the home where the kids were," he said.

No matter what the jury ultimately decides, Schaffhausen won't be free any time soon. A guilty verdict would likely keep him in prison for the rest of his life. If he's found not guilty, he'll be referred to a mental facility where he could eventually be released; however, Tamburino believes that is not very likely.

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