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Schaffhausen stands mute in arraignment hearing

Aaron Schaffhausen

A father charged with murder in the deaths of his three young daughters at a River Falls residence last month stood mute before the court in an arraignment hearing in St. Croix County Circuit Court Tuesday afternoon.

Public defender John Kucinski took the action on behalf of his client Aaron Schaffhausen, 34, Minot, N.D., who is charged with three counts of first-degree intentional homicide in deaths of Amara 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5 on July 10.

A felony charge of attempted arson was added to the complaint since Schaffhausen's initial appearance on July 12.

Judge Howard W. Cameron entered not guilty pleas for Schaffhausen on all four counts and continued a $2 million cash bond believed to be the highest amount ever set by the court.

Assistant Wisconsin Attorney General Gary Freyberg, who is prosecuting the case along with ADA Amber Hahn, filed a protective order for some 250 pages and several discs of information that Kucinski has yet to see.

Freyberg argued he had, "serious concerns" if the information became public it would "cause emotional harm."

Freyberg said by turning the withheld discovery over to Kucinski it would in fact become the defendant's, and therefore public record.

Kucinski said that without all the facts he could not enter a plea for his client.

Judge Cameron agreed to review the material and Kucinski could view it in the district attorney's office or a neutral site and set a review hearing for Sept. 20 at 3 p.m. when the matter of a protective order would be decided. The hearing would also serve to set the schedule for future proceedings.

At 3:45 p.m. July 10, River Falls Police were called to 2790 Morningside Ave., on the northeast edge of the city after Jessica Schaffhausen contacted the department and said her ex-husband, the father of her three children, telephoned her he "killed the kids," the criminal complaint said.

Police found the three children, each in their own bed with blankets covering their bodies and necklines. An investigator smelled raw gasoline in the basement flowing from a tipped over container.

An autopsy report from the Ramsey County Medical Examiner's office said Amara and Sophie died from sharp force injuries to the right side of their necks. Cecilia died from a sharp force injury to the neck and strangulation.

Jessica received a text message from Aaron at 11:45 a.m., whom she thought was working construction in Minot, N.D. He said he was in St. Paul and wanted to spend time with the girls. She agreed but said he must leave by 3:30 p.m. because she didn't want to see him.

A babysitter with the girls said Aaron arrived about 1:25 p.m. She said goodbye to them at 2:40 p.m., according to the complaint.

Police said Schaffhausen drove to RFPD and turned himself in but remained silent.