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Attorneys spar over Schaffhausen motions

Aaron Schaffhausen

The defense and prosecution waded through a litany of motions in the Aaron Schaffhausen murder case in St. Croix County Circuit Court Friday morning.

Judge Howard W. Cameron, Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg and public defender John Kucinski sparred over some two dozen motions.

Schaffhausen is accused of killing his three young daughters last July in their River Falls home. He entered a not guilty by insanity (NGI) plea Jan. 16.

As the motions stacked up, Judge Cameron deferred some, ruled in favor of some and denied others over the three-hour hearing.

The judge ruled that TV cameras would be allowed in the courtroom during the trial but excluded witness from the coverage.

The decision prompted Kucinski to ask, "If we don't have witness on camera, what good is it (cameras)?" His objection went unheeded.

Freyberg said he had not received a report from the defense's expert who evaluated Schaffhausen mental condition. "I'll give the report to the court," said Kucinski who wasn't inclined to turn it over directly to the state.

"Give it to him (Freyberg) that is my ruling," Cameron ordered and Kucinski delivered.

Freyberg said his expert would evaluate Schaffhausen March 5 and another hearing on motions was set for 9 a.m. March 15.

An NGI plea involves two separate phases of a trial before the same jury. In the first phase, the prosecution must prove Schaffhausen committed the crimes; the second determines whether he was mentally competent at the time.

Arguments between Freyberg and Kucinski over a number of the motions concerned whether they applied to the first phase or second. Some motions the judge took under advisement and some he said could be handled with objections and a ruling during trial. "I'll take it as it comes," he said.

At one point, Cameron told the attorneys, "You've got to stay on focus," as their rhetoric strayed onto tangents. At another time he ordered them to stop their arguments. "It's getting a little snarky," the judge said.

Cameron, Freyberg and Kucinski all worked out of the public defender's office in downtown Hudson together at one time.

Despite the flood of motions, the three-week trial appears to be on schedule. Cameron said 200 jury questionnaires had been sent out to county residents with 33 excused and four who didn't respond leaving 163 in the initial pool.

The judge set March 22 for the defense and prosecution to go through the jury questionnaires and strike for cause.

The trial starts with jury selection April 1 and 2 at the Hudson Golf Course. The trial is scheduled to run through April 26.

Schaffhausen, 35, Minot, N.D., is charged with three counts of first-degree homicide and one count of attempted arson in connection with the July 10 deaths of his three daughters, Amara 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5, who died from sharp force injuries to their necks, an autopsy report said.

He has been held on a $2 million cash bond on suicide watch in the St. Croix County Jail since mid-July.