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Friday -- Schaffhausen's mental state scrutinized

Aaron Schaffhausen

The defense called experts and a former co-worker from his construction job in North Dakota to testify about Aaron Schaffhausen's battle with depression and other issues Friday morning.

The testimony kicked off the fifth day of the insanity portion of Schaffhausen's trial. He pleaded not guilty by means of insanity or mental defect (NGI) in January in the deaths of his three young daughters.

In late March he pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of attempted arson in the first phase of the proceedings in which the prosecution was required to prove he committed the crimes.

The defense now carries the burden to prove Schaffhausen was insane and not responsible for the crimes in the second phase of the trial.

Jeremy Michaels, a co-worker who lived in Minot, N.D., with Schaffhausen, 35, for six weeks in May and early June told the court of an incident while playing cards when Schaffhausen mentioned doing harm to his children and ex-wife, Jessica.

Michaels said Schaffhausen blurted out, "I want to kill my kids, then my wife, then kill the man sleeping with her."

When cross examined by ADA Amber Hahn, Michaels recalled explaining the same incident to River Falls police in an e-mail after Schaffhausen was charged in the deaths of Amara 11, Sophie, 8, and Cecilia, 5. The girls were found July 10, 2012, in their beds with their throats cut in the River Falls home where they lived with his ex-wife, Jessica Schaffhausen, 33.

Michaels spoke of another incident when Schaffhausen attacked him with a broom and said, "Don't ever talk about my wife," in an apparent unprovoked outburst.

Friday's proceedings started with testimony from Dr. Paul R. McMillan, MD, of the River Falls Medical Clinic, who treated Schaffhausen four times between April 22 and Nov. 25, 2011 and prescribed anti-depressants.

When questioned by public defender Donna Burger, McMillan said he evaluated Schaffhausen with "moderate to severe depressive disorder" and changed his medication during the sessions.

The doctor said the last time he treated Schaffhausen on Nov. 25, 2011, the man was under more stress than the previous visit in June because his wife was divorcing him.

Gretchen Link, River Falls, a licensed social worker, followed on the stand. She met with Schaffhausen in two counseling sessions on June 13 and Aug. 20, 2011. "He was not a happy man," she said.

"He enjoyed playing video games and aspects of construction," she said, and he mentioned a family history of physical and mental health problems that were too "complicated" to elaborate.

Link said Schauffhausen, "looked very sad" on Aug. 20 and said his wife wanted a divorce and his drinking and his time playing video games had increased.

Jessica Schaffhausen, in previous testimony, described her ex-husband as an emotionally absent father who neglected the children and would rather play video games.

During cross examination by Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg, Link said Schaffhausen suffered from dysthymia, which she explained was, "a low-grade, ongoing depression."