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Schaffhausen sentenced to life without parole

Aaron Schaffhausen

One year after the tragic deaths of three young sisters in River Falls, their father, who was convicted of killing them, was sentenced to prison for the rest of his life.

Circuit Court Judge Howard W. Cameron handed down three consecutive life sentences without possibility of parole for Aaron Schaffhausen in the three homicide convictions. Schaffhausen also received a 20-year sentence in a related attempted arson conviction.

Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg said Schaffhausen "thought about killing his children to get back at (ex-wife) Jessica and acted on those thoughts," in arguing for the maximum sentence.

Mary Elizabeth Stotz, Jessica Schaffhausen's sister, addressed the court during the three and one-half hour hearing Monday afternoon. She said Schaffhausen "is an evil coward. Life without parole is the minimum, Aaron should rot in hell," she said.

Phillip C. Stotz, grandfather of the three children, said their deaths were "the worst event in the history of our family."

"Aaron has no place in society," Stotz said and called for the maximum sentence of life without parole.

Jessica Schaffhausen was expected make a statement to the court but declined and said it was too difficult for her, the judge said.

Schaffhausen, 35, has been held in jail since his arrest in River Falls on July 10, 2012, when he turned himself in to local police shortly after entering the house of his ex-wife and cutting the throats of his three daughters, Amara, 11, Sophie, 8 and Cecilia, 5, and leaving them in their beds. A spilled can of gasoline was found in the basement.

Jessica Schaffhausen was not at home at the time and Schaffhausen had blood on his clothing that matched the three girls when he arrived at the police station shortly after leaving the house, according to trial testimony.

He entered an insanity plea on three counts of homicide and one count of arson. A St. Croix County jury determined Schaffhausen suffered from mental disease or defect, but was responsible for the crimes in an April 16 verdict.

A large photograph of the three girls was placed near the witness stand in the courtroom.

Defense attorney John Kucinski pressed the idea of mental illness in his arguments and called for concurrent life sentences with eligibility for parole or extended supervision.

"A rational, sane person cannot take the girls he loves and kill them," Kucinski said. The defense attorney said Schaffhausen suffered from a rare mental illness.

"Look at mental illness instead of revenge," he said.

Patti Fix, Schaffhausen's aunt, suggested a history of mental illness in the family. "He is not a coward," she said. "Send him away for life, but stop saying he's a coward. He has a mental illness," she said.

Schaffhausen's mother, Sue Allen, said her son was "a good man who did a horrible thing."

She told him to "ask for forgiveness," and said "I love you."

Schaffhausen, dressed in orange prison garb, showed no emotion throughout the proceedings.

In the end Judge Cameron said the most important consideration in sentencing was the gravity of the crime. "No doubt this is a horrible crime. No one has ever denied that," he said.

The judge acknowledged mental illness was involved but said, "I don't think it's a mitigating factor."

"The murder of three young girls is not to be tolerated. It was a vicious, aggravated crime," he said.

The courtroom was packed with family and friends of both the victims and defendant, jurors and alternates who attended the trial, and media members to the point an overflow of media and other interested persons watched the proceedings on closed-circuit TV in the county board room.

Prior to the sentencing hearing, Kucinski said he would file an appeal in the case.