HUDSON, Wis. (AP) — Just over a year after a Wisconsin man killed his three daughters to get back at his ex-wife, he was sentenced Monday to life in prison with no chance of parole.
In April, a jury found that 35-year-old Aaron Schaffhausen was sane when he killed 11-year-old Amara, 8-year-old Sophie and 5-year-old Cecilia at their River Falls home. Schaffhausen had admitted he killed the girls in July 2012 to get back at his ex-wife, but argued he had a mental defect that kept him from knowing it was wrong.
Life sentences were mandatory in each girl’s death, but Schaffhausen had the prospect of supervised release after at least 20 years in prison. That was rejected by St. Croix County Circuit Judge Howard Cameron, who said: “I don’t see mental illness as a mitigating factor.”
“This is a vicious, aggravated crime,” Cameron said before handing down the sentence. Cameron said he chose consecutive life sentences to send a message that “each child is so important.”
Evidence showed that 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’ baby sitter told investigators the children were excited when he arrived, and the sitter left.
He called his ex-wife, Jessica Schaffhausen, about two hours later, saying: “You can come home now, I killed the kids.”
Police arrived to find the girls lying in their beds, their throats slit and their blankets pulled up to their necks. White T-shirts were tied around their necks. Cecilia’s body also showed signs of strangulation.
As he did throughout his trial, Aaron Schaffhausen — wearing an orange jail uniform and handcuffs — sat impassively as family members and attorneys read their statements.
Jessica Schaffhausen’s sister, Mary Elizabeth Stotz, described Aaron Schaffhausen as “the darkness, the boogeyman” that every child fears.
“He took their unconditional love for him, and used that love to lure them to get close enough (to) kill them,” Stotz said, adding, “Their last memory was what an evil killer their dad was.”
Eryn Schlotte, the girls’ cousin, said Schaffhausen took away from her “the future of seeing them smile, and what I had to look forward to when school got out.
“I thought the world was a better place than this. Not a place where someone got killed before they were even in kindergarten or middle school.”
With family members crying and sharing tissues, lead prosecutor Gary Freyberg read his statement, saying Schaffhausen used the girls “as pawns … to make Jessica suffer.”
“How wrong is it to use his intellect, his size and his brute strength not to protect his children from danger, but to become the most dangerous person in the world to them?” he asked.
Freyberg said consecutive life sentences with no possibility of release was the only way for Jessica Schaffhausen to be free of fear that her ex-husband would someday come for her.
Defense attorney John Kucinski told reporters the sentence was “vengeful” and said the judge did not take Aaron Schaffhausen’s mental illness into account.
“Everybody loses,” Kucinski said, noting that he plans to appeal.
Trial testimony showed that in the months leading up to the killings, Schaffhausen told several people he had thoughts of killing his daughters. His ex-wife testified that in March 2012, he called her from Minot, N.D. — where he was working — and told her he “wanted to drive down there and tie me up and make me pick which child he killed and make me watch while he killed them.”
He also called his ex-wife repeatedly, sometimes up to 30 times a day, and threatened to kill the man she was dating.
Schaffhausen didn’t testify at his trial. His defense attorney argued at trial that Schaffhausen has a rare mental disorder rooted in deep dependency on his ex-wife, and believed the only way he could “solve” his problem was to commit suicide or homicide. The jury rejected his insanity defense.