A former Idaho lawmaker was found guilty on Friday of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern after a dramatic trial in which the young woman fled the witness box during a testimony by saying “I can’t do that”.
The intern told a Statehouse supervisor that Aaron von Ehlinger raped her in his apartment after the two dined at a restaurant in Boise in March 2021. Von Ehlinger said the sex was consensual.
At the time, the Lewiston Republican was serving as a state representative, but later resigned.
Von Ehlinger, 39, was found guilty on Friday of rape. He was found not guilty of sexual penetration with a foreign body.
Von Ehlinger sat quietly as the verdict was read, as he did throughout the trial.
Afterwards, 4th District Judge Michael Reardon told the jury, “This is an unusual case with many unexpected circumstances, but I appreciate your attention…and your hard work.”
A conviction for rape carries a minimum sentence of one year in prison in Idaho. The maximum sentence can be up to life in prison, at the discretion of the judge. Judgment is scheduled for July 28.
While von Ehlinger was taken into custody and handcuffed, he spoke quietly with his attorney who removed items from von Ehlinger’s pockets.
The prosecution remained stoic as they left the courtroom, but once they reached a lower floor they paused briefly to congratulate each other on the verdict.
Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, could not immediately be reached for comment after the trial.
The Associated Press does not generally identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted and referred to the woman in the case as “Jane Doe” at her request.
At a press conference, Ada County District Attorney Jan Bennetts thanked the jury, investigators and prosecutors who handled the case.
“Last and foremost, it took an incredible amount of courage for the victim in this case, Jane Doe, to come forward,” Bennetts said. “I want to acknowledge the courage she took in coming forward.”
Doe testified on the second day of the trial. She hesitantly described the moments the alleged assault began, before abruptly leaving the witness box.
“He tried to put his fingers between my legs and I closed my knees,” Doe said.
With that, she stood up.
“I can’t do this,” she said as she quickly left the courtroom.
The judge gave prosecutors 10 minutes to find her to determine if she would return and resume her testimony.
When she didn’t, the judge told jurors they had to “wipe (Doe’s testimony) off your mind as if it never happened” because the defense couldn’t counter it. – interrogate.
During the press conference, Assistant District Attorney Katelyn Farley said the moment Doe left the trial was “heartbreaking,” but said she and Assistant District Attorney Whitney Welsh prepared for the trial knowing that Doe might not be able to testify.
“I think it’s important that she decided to walk in the room and also decided to walk out — those were her choices,” Welsh said.
During his testimony on Thursday, von Ehlinger often spoke in a clear, loud voice directly to jurors, saying he and Doe decided to return to his apartment to “hang out” after eating at a fancy restaurant in Boise. Then they started making out on the couch, he said.
“Things were going well and I asked (Doe) if she wanted to move into the bedroom,” von Ehlinger said. “She said ‘Of course.’ We got up, held hands and walked into the bedroom.
Deliberations stretched for seven hours until nearly 8 p.m. Thursday before the jury decided to take a break for the evening. At one point, the judge called the lawyers into his chambers because the jury asked a question. No details have been released about the jury’s inquest.
When the allegations became public—largely because of the Legislative Ethics Inquiry—Doe faced relentless harassment from some of von Ehlinger’s supporters. His name, photo, and personal details about his life have been repeatedly made public in “doxxing” incidents. One of the people who frequently harassed her was at the courthouse to attend the trial, but law enforcement barred the man from the floor where the case was being heard.
During closing arguments, Farley told jurors the case was about “power in the wrong hands” accustomed to the “great devastation” of Doe. Von Ehlinger had social, political and physical power over the little intern, Farley said.
“He used that power to rape her and forcibly penetrate her,” Farley said, pointing at von Ehlinger. Doe resisted in several ways, she said, pointing to testimony from law enforcement investigators and a sexual assault nurse examiner who interviewed Doe after the alleged assault.
“Words show the absence of consent. Excuses of “Why shouldn’t this happen” show a lack of consent. Pulling your head back and hurting yourself shows a lack of consent,” Farley said.
But von Ehlinger’s attorney told jurors the prosecution case was made up of “red runaways” and said von Ehlinger was a credible person who willingly came forward to share his side of the story.
Investigators and the nurse who conducted the sexual assault examination testified earlier this week. They said Doe reported being pinned down while von Ehlinger forced her to perform oral sex, and that she knew he frequently carried a handgun and placed it on a chest of drawers near the bed when he aggression. The nurse also testified that Doe had a “goose egg” on the back of her head from hitting the wall or a headboard while trying to get her head out of von Ehlinger’s grasp.