A former Idaho lawmaker was convicted Friday of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern after a dramatic trial in which the young woman fled the witness stand during testimony, saying “I can’t do this.” According to the intern, who is referred to as “jane doe“at her request, Aaron von Ehlinger, 39, raped her at his apartment after the two had dinner at a Boise restaurant in March 2021.
Von Ehlinger was a state representative from Lewiston, but later resigned. He sat calmly as the verdict was read, as he has throughout the trial. Von Ehlinger talked quietly with his attorney about him, who removed items from his pockets as he was handcuffed and remanded to custody.
Afterward, 4th District Judge Michael Reardon told the jury: “This has been an unusual case attended by many unexpected circumstances, but I appreciate your attention … and hard work.”
Doe on Friday haltingly described the moments the alleged assault began, before abruptly leaving the witness stand.
“He tried to put his fingers between my legs and I closed my knees,” Doe said. At that, she stood up. “I can’t do this,” she said, quickly walking out of the courtroom.
The judge gave the prosecuting attorneys 10 minutes to find her to determine if she would return and summarize her testimony.
When she did not, the judge told the jurors they had to “strike (Doe’s testimony) from your minds as if it never happened,” because the defense could not cross-examine her.
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 began making out on the couch, he said.
“Things were going well, and I asked (Doe) if she would like to move to the bedroom,” von Ehlinger said. “She said ‘Sure.’ We got up, held hands and walked into the bedroom.”
He insisted the sex was consensual.
Deliberations stretched for seven hours until nearly 8 pm Thursday before the jury decided to break for the evening. At one point, the judge summoned the attorneys to his chambers because the jury asked a question. No details were made public about the jury’s inquiry.
When the allegations became public — largely because of the legislative ethics investigation — Doe faced unrelenting harassment from some of von Ehlinger’s supporters. Her name, photo and personal details of her about her life were repeatedly publicized in “doxxing” incidents.
One of the people who frequently harassed her was in the courthouse to attend the trial, but law enforcement banned the man from the floor where the case was being heard.
During closing arguments, Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley told jurors that the case was about “power in the wrong hands” used to the “great devastation” of Doe. Von Ehlinger had social, political and physical power over the petite intern, Farley said.
“He used that power to rape and forcibly penetrate her,” Farley said, pointing at von Ehlinger. Doe resisted in several ways, she said, highlighting the testimony of law enforcement investigators and a nurse sexual assault examiner who interviewed Doe after the alleged assault.
“Words show lack of consent. Excuses of ‘Why this shouldn’t happen,’ show lack of consent. Yanking your head back and getting an injury shows lack of consent,” Farley said.
But von Ehlinger’s defense attorney Jon Cox told jurors the prosecution’s case was made up of “red herrings,” and said von Ehlinger was a credible person who willingly took the stand to share his side of the story.
Earlier this week, jurors heard from investigators and a nurse who performed a rape exam. They testified that Doe reported being pinned down while von Ehlinger forced her to perform oral sex, and that she knew he frequently carried a handgun and had placed it on a dresser near the bed at the time of the assault. A nurse also testified that Doe had a “goose egg” on the back of her head from striking the wall or a headboard while trying to jerk her head away from von Ehlinger’s grip on her.
Von Ehlinger’s sentencing has been scheduled for July 28.
In the US, help is available for survivors of sexual violence and their families. RAINN offers resources at 1-800-656-HOPE and on their website, www.rainn.org
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism