Former lawmaker in Idaho found guilty of raping intern

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BOISE, Idaho – A former Idaho lawmaker was convicted Friday of raping a 19-year-old law enforcement trainee after a dramatic trial in which the young woman fled the witness stand under testimony and said “I can not do this.”

The trainee told a Statehouse supervisor that Aaron von Ehlinger raped her in his apartment after the two had dinner at a Boise restaurant in March 2021. Von Ehlinger said the sex was consensual.

At the time, the Lewiston Republican was serving as state representative, but he later resigned.

Von Ehlinger, 39, was found guilty of rape on Friday. He was found innocent of sexual penetration with a foreign body.

Von Ehlinger sat quietly as the verdict was read, as he has done throughout the trial.

Afterwards, 4th District Judge Michael Reardon told the jury: “This has been an unusual case with many unexpected circumstances, but I appreciate your attention … and hard work.”

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Former Idaho State Attorney Aaron von Ehlinger is testifying on his own behalf during Day Three of his rape trial at the Ada County Courthouse on Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Boise, Idaho.  (Brian Myrick / The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP, Pool)

Former Idaho State Attorney Aaron von Ehlinger is testifying on his own behalf during Day Three of his rape trial at the Ada County Courthouse on Thursday, April 28, 2022 in Boise, Idaho. (Brian Myrick / The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP, Pool)
(Brian Myrick / The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP, Pool)

A rape conviction carries a minimum sentence of one year in prison in Idaho. The maximum penalty can be as high as life imprisonment at the discretion of the judge. The verdict is scheduled for July 28.

When von Ehlinger was remanded in custody and handcuffed, he spoke quietly with his lawyer, who removed items from von Ehlinger’s pockets.

Former Idaho State Attorney Aaron von Ehlinger is being taken out of court after being convicted of raping a 19-year-old law student in Boise, Idaho, on Friday, April 29, 2022, following a dramatic lawsuit in which he young woman fled.  the witness stand during testimony, says "I can not do this."

Former Idaho State Attorney Aaron von Ehlinger is being taken out of court after being convicted of raping a 19-year-old law student in Boise, Idaho, on Friday, April 29, 2022, following a dramatic lawsuit in which he young woman fled. the witness stand during the testimony and said “I can not do this.”
((James Dawson / Boise State Public Radio, Pool via AP)

The prosecution remained stoic as they left the courtroom, but when they reached a lower floor, they stopped to briefly congratulate each other on the verdict.

Von Ehlinger’s lawyer, Jon Cox, could not be immediately reached for comment after the trial.

The Associated Press generally does not identify individuals who say they have been sexually assaulted, and at her request has referred to the woman in this case as “Jane Doe”.

At a news conference, Ada County’s prosecutor thanked Jan Bennett’s jury, investigators and prosecutors who handled the case.

“Last but not least, 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 described stopping the moments the alleged assault began before abruptly leaving the witness stand.

“He was trying to put his fingers between my legs and I closed my knees,” Doe said.

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At that, she got up.

“I can not do this,” she said, and quickly left the courtroom.

Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Farley is conferring with a colleague during a break in testimony on the second day of the rape case against former Idaho State Representative Aaron von Ehlinger at the Ada County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Boise, Idaho.  (Brian Myrick / The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP, Pool)

Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Farley is conferring with a colleague during a break in testimony on the second day of the rape case against former Idaho State Representative Aaron von Ehlinger at the Ada County Courthouse on Wednesday, April 27, 2022, in Boise, Idaho. (Brian Myrick / The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP, Pool)
(Brian Myrick / The Idaho Press-Tribune via AP, Pool)

The judge gave the prosecuting attorneys 10 minutes to find her to decide if she would return and resume her testimony.

When she did not, the judge told jurors that they had to “strike (Does testimony) from your mind as if it never happened,” because the defense could not cross-examine her.

During the press conference, Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Farley said the moment Doe left the trial was “heartbreaking”, but said she and Deputy Prosecutor Whitney Welsh had prepared for the trial knowing that Doe may not be able to testify.

“I think it’s important that she decided to go into space, and she also decided to go out – it was her choice,” Welsh said.

During his testimony 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 Boise restaurant. Then they started enjoying themselves on the couch, he said.

“It went well and I asked (Doe) if she would move to the bedroom,” von Ehlinger said. “She said ‘Of course’. We got up, held each other’s hand and went into the bedroom.”

Discussions lasted for seven hours until almost 8pm on Thursday before the jury decided to take a break for the evening. At one point, the judge summoned the lawyers to his chambers because the jury asked a question. No details were released about the jury’s request.

When the allegations became public – mainly due to the legislative ethical investigation – Doe faced tireless harassment from some of von Ehlinger’s supporters. Her name, photo and personal information about her life were repeatedly published in “doxxing” incidents. One of the people who often harassed her was in the courthouse to watch the trial, but law enforcement banned the man from getting on the floor where the case was being processed.

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During the closing arguments, Farley told jurors that the case was about “power in the wrong hands” used for Does “great destruction”. Von Ehlinger had social, political and physical power over the little intern, Farley said.

“He used that power to rape and forcibly penetrate her,” Farley said, pointing to von Ehlinger. Doe resisted in several ways, she said, highlighting the testimony of law enforcement investigators and a nurse investigating sexual assault who interviewed Doe after the alleged assault.

“Words show a lack of consent. Excuses for ‘why this should not happen’ show a lack of consent. To shake one’s head and get an injury shows a lack of consent,” Farley said.

But von Ehlinger’s lawyer told jurors that the prosecution’s case consisted of “red herring,” saying von Ehlinger was a credible person who willingly decided to share his side of the story.

Investigators and the nurse who conducted the sexual assault investigation testified earlier in the week. They said Doe reported having been restrained while von Ehlinger forced her to perform oral sex and that she knew he often carried a gun and had placed it on a dresser near the bed at the time of the assault. The nurse also testified that Doe had a “goose egg” on the back of her head when she hit the wall or a headboard while trying to jerk her head away from von Ehlinger’s grip.

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