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Ex-wife tells of troubled life with Schaffhausen

Her ex-husband was depressed when she met him, and throughout their 12-year relationship, the only constant was his obsession with video games, testified Jessica Schaffhausen in St. Croix County Court Wednesday.

Jessica, whose former husband Aaron Schaffhausen has pled guilty to killing their three daughters, testified for about an hour Wednesday afternoon before questions about the admissibility of emails derailed the trial.

Because Aaron, 35, has entered guilty pleas to three counts of first-degree intentional homicide and one count of attempted arson, the trial is being held to determine if he was legally incompetent at the time of the killings. The jury's decision will mean the difference between life in prison and commitment to a mental institution.

"The only thing that could really keep his attention long term was video games," said Jessica,33, describing life with her then-husband. "He would rather play video games than do anything else ... video games always came first."

Jessica said Aaron was depressed from the time they first met in the coffee shop where she worked, but "he came out of it and got very focused on school" for a time.

The depression, she said, came and went, and for a few years he seemed better.

She said Aaron was very intelligent but "somewhat anti-social."

"I was always the more social person, the one who started and maintained relationships," said Jessica.

Her ex-husband's attorney, John Kucinski, led Jessica through a timeline of her marriage, which included the births of their daughters and multiple moves as Aaron started, then quit, several jobs and started and quit college - the last time without telling her.

"He was playing video games and he would be unkind if I tried to get him to interact with me or the kids or participate at all," said Jessica of life with her husband.

"So you were pretty much pulling the whole ship yourself?" asked Kucinski.

"Yes," replied Jessica, who by the end of their marriage had earned her degree and was working fulltime while caring for the children and house.

"It's very hard to make plans when somebody's going back and forth from working to not working and from going to school and not going to school," said Jessica.

In fall of 2009 her husband started classes at UW-River Falls but dropped out without telling her in March 2011.

"He lied to me," said Jessica. "He broke my trust, and I had to come up with a large sum of money to pay the school."

Then, she said, he sat around the house drinking and playing video games for eight or more hours a day.

After he dropped out, she wrote him a letter telling him what she wanted him to change to save their marriage and she wrote lists of things he could do.

She insisted that he see a doctor, who prescribed first one antidepressant then another.

By late summer of 2011, Jessica felt her husband had reached a point where he was stable financially and emotionally and she asked for a divorce. By then, Aaron had a job and was working out of town.

His job took him to North Dakota by October 2011.

By November, Aaron wouldn't talk to their daughters on the phone anymore, but would call her number as many as 30 times in a row, said Jessica.

"He was mad at me (because) I didn't want to stay married to him anymore," she said.

As that point in the testimony, Kucinski tried to question Jessica about emails she had sent, and Assistant Attorney General Gary Freyberg, who is prosecuting the case, objected.

"This is an opinion about what she thinks he's thinking," argued Freyberg, saying the emails Jessica sent months earlier have no relevance to Aaron's state of mind when he killed their daughters.

The emails are observations of the wife, countered Kucinski after jurors were ushered from the courtroom.

The two were geographically hundreds of miles apart so Jessica couldn't observe her husband's condition, argued Freyberg.

He said Kucinski was laying the groundwork to be able to tell the jury, "Even his wife thought he was crazy."

Judge Howard Cameron studied five or six emails and allowed Kucinski to question Jessica about some parts, but then the public defender asked to also use other emails.

At that point Cameron excused the jurors for the day, planning to rule on the admissibility of the emails before resuming the trial at 8:30 Thursday morning.

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.

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