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Psychologist offers theory in Schaffhausen murders

The psychiatrist appointed by the court says Aaron Schaffhausen was sane when he murdered his three little daughters. The clinical psychologist hired by the defense says he was not.

Psychiatrist Ralph K. Baker testified Monday, and psychologist J. Reid Meloy took the stand Tuesday as the trial continued into its second week at the St. Croix County Government Center in Hudson.

Schaffhausen, 35, has pleaded guilty to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of attempted arson in the July 10, 2012, slayings of Amara, age 11; Sophie, 8; and Cecilia, 5. Jurors must decide if the man was legally competent at the time of the murders.

The doctors agreed Schaffhausen was clinically depressed. But Baker, who for 20 years was interim director or director of Winnebago Mental Health Institute, said the defendant knew right from wrong and was able to control his behavior.

Meloy, who said he has testified in court cases in 25 states, many involving "complex and unusual homicides," said the crimes fit the criteria of "catathymic homicides."

He said "catathymic" means "in accordance with emotion," and such crimes are the result of "deep-seated emotions that the person (committing the crime) doesn't understand."

Along with clinically recurring depression, Schaffhausen suffers from personality disorders, obsessive thinking, impulsivity and narcissism, said Meloy.

He said Schaffhausen did not bond with his father but developed a strong bond with his mother and transferred that attachment to his wife, Jessica.

"This was a dependent man who, in my mind, it was like not only was she his wife, she was his mother," said Meloy.

In forming his opinion, Baker said he relied on observations by people who saw Schaffhausen around the time of the murders, other external sources and on what Schaffhausen himself said during an interview in February, seven months after the killings.

During that examination, testified Baker, Schaffhausen said after he arrived at the house in River Falls last July 10, he offered to take the girls down to the river and was helping Cecilia, the youngest, with her shoes. The next thing he knew, Schaffhausen told Baker, he was choking the child.

For more, please read this week's print edition of the River Falls Journal or the Hudson Star-Observer.

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.