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Update: Schaffhausen pleads guilty in murder case

A River Falls man pleaded guilty to homicide and arson charges in the deaths of his three young daughters Thursday afternoon, March 28, in the first phase of the murder case. Aaron Schaffhausen, 35, Minot, N.D., pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of attempted arson before Judge Howard W. Cameron in St. Croix County Circuit Court.

The case will move to a second phase Monday, April 1, with jury selection in which the defense must prove Schaffhausen was not responsible for his actions at the time he committed the crimes.

Schaffhausen's guilty pleas effectively eliminated the first phase in which the prosecution is required to prove he committed the crimes.

Schaffhausen entered an NGI (not guilty by reason of insanity) plea Jan. 16.

A 12-person jury will hear the second phase proceedings. A 10-person majority is necessary to determine if he is responsible for the crimes.

A plea agreement was presented to the judge and sealed before Schaffhausen admitted to the crimes.

Assistant attorney general Gary Freyberg, the lead prosecutor in the case, acknowledged concern the agreement could have an effect on the jury pool if made public.

Schaffhausen pleaded guilty in causing the deaths of Amara 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5 on July 10 in their River Falls home on the city's east side where they lived with his ex-wife, Jessica.

The maximum penalty for each count is life in prison without parole or extended supervision. The maximum sentence for attempted arson is 20 years.

Jessica Schaffhausen attended the court proceedings for the second straight day.

Freyberg supported the complaint by citing the facts for the record, including Schaffhausen had blood stains on his shorts that matched Amara and Sophie, and blood stains on his socks that matched Sophie when he turned himself into the River Falls Police Department at 4:45pm July 10.

There was also evidence clothes he left behind at the house had blood stains that matched all three children, said Freyberg.

The prosecutor also noted there was the smell of gas in the house when police arrived and that a gas can previously in the garage had been overturned onto cardboard in the basement near "ignition sources."