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No new murder trial for River Falls dad

Wisconsin’s District III Court of Appeals has ruled that Aaron Schaffhausen, the man convicted of killing his three young daughters in River Falls won’t get a new trial.

In March 2013, Schaffhausen, now 37, pleaded guilty to the deaths of Amara, Sophie and Cecilia July 10, 2012, but not guilty by reason of mental disease. He also pleaded guilty to attempted arson for planning to burn down the home of his ex-wife where the girls lived.

In April 2013, following a sanity-phase trial, a St. Croix County jury unanimously concluded Schaffhausen’s actions were not caused by a mental disease or defect. On July 15, 2013, Judge Howard Cameron sentenced Schaffhausen to three life terms in prison.

In the appeal, defense attorneys claimed the judge erred in telling jurors they should decide if a defense psychiatrist and psychologist were qualified as expert witnesses, by promising to give jurors an instruction on expert qualifications but failing to do so, and failing to provide the expert witnesses’ reports.

The jury heard from over 50 witnesses, including the three experts who testified regarding the defendant’s mental state at the time of the offenses. Schaffhausen’s attorney called two of those experts: Ralph Baker, a psychiatrist; and John Reid Meloy, a court-appointed expert and psychologist hired by the defense.

The Court of Appeals, in a ruling filed Tuesday, agreed Cameron erred in what he told jurors, but said those were “misstatements,” and that Cameron implicitly determined they were experts by admitting their testimony.

As for the argument that Cameron erred by refusing to provide the three experts’ reports to the jury during deliberations, the appeals court determined that the county judge properly exercised his discretion.

The appeals court said Cameron properly exercised his discretion on the witness reports.

Schaffhausen is serving three life terms in Dodge Correctional Institution, Waupun.

Judy Wiff

Judy Wiff has been regional editor for RiverTown’s Wisconsin newspapers since 1996. She holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism and sociology from UW-River Falls. She has worked as a reporter for several weekly newspapers in Wisconsin.