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Judge accepts Schaffhausen insanity plea

Judge Howard Cameron fielded a slew of motions in the Aaron Schaffhausen murder case Thursday, including one filed recently.

The St. Croix County judge accepted Schaffhausen's plea of not guilty by mental defect or illness filed by the defense the previous day for a ruling at the regular scheduled motion hearing Jan. 17.

The law required Schaffhausen, who appeared from jail where he has been held on $2 million bond on suicide watch, to answer the judge's question to affirm the NGI plea. He answered "yes" in a soft voice for one the few, if only times he had spoken in court.

He stood mute before the court at his arraignment Aug. 28 and a no contest plea was entered, according to the court record.

Judge Cameron denied a motion for a change of venue. The judge said he believed an impartial jury could be selected in St. Croix County.

"This is a statewide case," he said adding that he had gone through a stack of newspaper headlines and a number of TV reports all the way to Milwaukee that indicated the scope of interest.

The judge passed on a ruling to prohibit cameras in the courtroom during the trial and said he would hand down his decision later.

Cameras from area TV stations and newspapers have been allowed in the courtroom in the proceedings so far.

Scaffhausen, 35, is charged with three counts of first-degree homicide and one count of arson in the deaths of his three young daughters, Amara 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5 on July 10 in their River Falls home at 2790 Morningside Ave., on the northeast edge of the city.

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, the criminal complaint said.

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.

With an insanity plea, the prosecution will have to first prove that the Schaffhausen committed the crimes. If they are successful, the defense will then have to prove he was mentally deficient at the time.

The courtroom was packed including some 30 high school students and their teacher from a criminology class at St. Croix Central High School and a dozen members of the media.

The hearing was scheduled for 8:30 a.m. but didn't get underway until 9:40 a.m. after the attorneys met with the judge in chambers. An additional motion hearing was set for Jan. 31 at 10 a.m.