Jon Echternacht, Forum Communications, Published July 24 2012
North Dakota man bound over for trial in Wis. daughters' deaths
Judge Scott Needham found probable cause that Aaron Schaffhausen committed a felony and set an arraignment hearing for Aug. 28 at 4 p.m. when he will enter a plea.
Schaffhausen, 35, is charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide in the July 10 deaths of daughters Amara, 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecelia, 5, at their River Falls residence. He appeared in an orange jail suit in handcuffs and showed no emotion through the hour and one half hearing.
Gary Freyberg of the Wisconsin Attorney General’s office and Assistant District Attorney Amber Hahn prosecuted the case. The team called three witnesses.
Fallon Moore, a UW-RF student who served as a babysitter for Aaron and Jessica Schaffhausen for five years and who was taking care of the children on July 10, took the stand first.
She testified that she received a call from Jessica who said Aaron wanted to visit with the children. He arrived about 1:30 p.m. “The girls were happy to see their father,” she said. “They greeted him at the front door.”
When asked about Aaron’s demeanor at the time, Moore said he was, “slightly gruff but not impolite,” which was normal for him.
She said the girls went upstairs with their father and Moore left the house.
Ailene Splittgerber, a six-year employee with the River Falls Police Department, took the stand next.
She testified she was working her eight-hour shift that included handling no emergency calls when she took a call from the Ramsey County, Minn., dispatch at about 3:30 p.m.
She said the call was from Jessica who was hysterical and crying. “She wanted officers to go to her residence at 2790 Morningside Ave. and check on her children. She said her ex-husband called her and said he had killed the children,” Splittgerber said.
She said calls to her desk aren’t normally recorded but after “less than a minute” of conversation, she started recording it. She kept talking to Jessica for an estimated 40 minutes.
The prosecution’s third witness was investigator John Wilson of River Falls Police Department. He testified he was dispatched to the Schaffhausen home and arrived about 4 p.m.
Wilson said he went upstairs and found a young child in the first bedroom he came to, “lifeless with a blanket pulled up to her neck, blood on her face and her eyes open.”
He testified to finding the two other children in similar condition in separate upstairs bedrooms and a large pool of blood and blood spatters in one of the rooms.
Wilson said he observed the autopsies on the three girls at the Ramsey County Medical Examiner’s office in St. Paul. He said two of the girls had, “large gaping wounds across their necks,” and one child had “two gaping wounds across her neck.”
A specific murder weapon has not been identified, but the prosecution believed it was a knife in earlier statements.
Wilson said he was later informed that Aaron turned himself in to the department and had what appeared to be blood on a right pocket of his cargo shorts. He “did not say a word” during an interview,” the investigator said.
Public defender John Kucinski represented Schaffhausen along with public defender Alex Andrea from the Hudson office. Kucinski did not call any witnesses.
The court room was well represented by members of the Twin Cities and surrounding media. Kucinski had filed a motion to exclude media, in the form of cameras, from the courtroom. Judge Needham partially denied it but allowed only one TV camera in the courtroom and other television outlets had to take a feed off it.
“With cameras and TV, people testify differently,” Kucinski argued in defense of his client.
Judge Scott Needham presided over the hearing in place of Judge Howard Cameron who was on vacation. Cameron heard Schaffhausen’s initial appearance July 12 and will resume the case at the arraignment Aug. 28. Schaffhausen has been held in the St. Croix County Jail on $2 million cash bail since his arrest.