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Rape trial begins for former Idaho lawmaker

Aaron von Ehlinger is accused of sexually assaulting a 19-year-old Statehouse intern during the 2021 legislative session.

BOISE, Idaho — Note: This story contains graphic descriptions that may be disturbing to some readers. 

Ada County prosecutors argued during the first day of a rape trial that the defendant, a former Idaho lawmaker, "used his power, both social and physical" to sexually assault a Statehouse intern during the 2021 legislative session.

Aaron von Ehlinger, 39, is charged with felony counts of rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object. He is accused of penetrating the 19-year-old woman with his finger and forcing her to perform oral sex at his Boise apartment March 9, 2021 after the pair went out to dinner together.

Von Ehlinger, a Republican from Juliaetta, resigned as a lawmaker the following month after an ethics panel found that he had committed "conduct unbecoming" in his sexual pursuit of the intern and several other women who work at the Capitol. 

He was arrested in September.

"This case is about power; power wielded in the wrong hands," Prosecutor Katelyn Farley told jurors in her opening statement.

The 19-year-old, identified in court documents as Jane Doe, told police the then-lawmaker was driving her back to her vehicle when he told her he had to first stop at his Boise apartment to pick something up.

Once she was inside his apartment, however, the intern reported that von Ehlinger picked her up, carried her into his bedroom, removed her clothing, and assaulted her, despite her repeatedly telling him "no" and saying that she did not want to have sex.

Farley said in her opening statement that the intern "tried to resist, she tried to make excuses" - including telling von Ehlinger she wasn't on birth control, they could get in trouble, she wasn't ready, and that he was hurting her. 

"He didn't stop and he didn't listen to [Jane Doe]," Farley said.

Von Ehlinger has insisted the encounter was consensual. He pleaded not guilty to the charges in November.

Jon Cox, the defendant's attorney, said the evidence in the case will prove his client innocent. He argued in his opening statement that Jane Doe willingly went up to von Ehlinger's apartment and that the two kissed before moving into the bedroom.

"From Aaron's standpoint, it was two consensual people engaged in making out," Cox said.

Cox said the sexual encounter that followed was consensual as well.

Anne Wardle, a Saint Alphonsus nurse who performed a sexual assault examination on Jane Doe on May 11, described the 19-year-old as "pretty tearful."

The intern recounted that she had hit her head on the headboard or wall as she tried to pull away from von Ehlinger, and the exam revealed a "lump or goose egg" on the back of her head, according to Wardle.

The nurse testified that Jane Doe said that she had told von Ehlinger "no" and said "I don't want to do this," but he had straddled her with his knees pinning her arms and forced his penis into her mouth.

The 19-year-old identified von Ehlinger as her assailant, Wardle said. Jane Doe  told her that the lawmaker carried a handgun at all times, and that he had taken the gun off and placed it on the dresser once in the bedroom.

Several people - including current Idaho House member and candidate for lieutenant governor Rep. Priscilla Giddings - widely shared the intern's name, photo, and personal information after she reported the rape to police. Giddings was sanctioned for publicly posting the information, as well as lying about it under oath, in a separate legislative ethics hearing.

During jury selection, the prosecution asked potential jurors whether they hold beliefs on how a victim should act following an assault, or how much physical resistance a victim ought to put up. Prosecutor Katelyn Farley also asked whether any personally know any survivors of rape, drawing responses from multiple people who talked about the sexual abuse of their mothers, sisters, friends, or patients. Many of those polled said their loved one did not report what had happened to police.

Von Ehlinger's defense attorney, Jon Cox, asked whether the fact that the defendant was a politician or a Republican would bias potential jurors against him, and queried the group about their thoughts on the "Me Too" movement. 

Ultimately, a group of seven men and six women were seated, making up the panel of 12 jurors and one alternate.

If convicted, von Ehlinger could face up to life in prison and mandatory registration as a sex offender. The trial is set to continue Wednesday morning.

Live updates from court:

4:16 p.m. - Seat analyzed DNA in this case, and says evidence collected in Jane Doe's rape kit was a match for von Ehlinger.

4:11 p.m. - Seat testifies he has analyzed DNA in more than 2,000 cases and previously testified as an expert.

4:09 p.m. - Wardle testimony concludes. Prosecution now calling Eric Seat, a forensic scientist for Idaho State Police.

4:04 p.m. - Farley asks: "Did the victim ever indicate that she was a willing participant" in any part of the sexual encounter? "No," Wardle replies.

4:01 p.m. - Wardle testified that Jane Doe said she pulled away, then "froze" and started crying after von Ehlinger forced oral sex on her.

3:57 p.m. - Wardle, under questioning by Farley, says Jane Doe had not planned on going into von Ehlinger's apartment. "He is a lot bigger than me, and he is armed," Doe told the nurse. Wardle also testified that Doe told her von Ehlinger, then a state representative, had grabbed her by the hand and "pulled" her onto the couch. Doe said she turned her legs toward him to keep some distance between them.

3:51 p.m. - Wardle still on the witness stand, as Farley (for prosecution) begins redirect. Wardle testifies that bruises can depend on several factors, and the lack of bruises and some other types of injuries associated with sexual assault is not "inconsistent."

3:37 p.m. - Court is taking a 10-minute break.

3:28 p.m. - Jane Doe was in stable condition when she left, Wardle says, but she recommended a follow-up with a doctor.

3:23 p.m. - Cox is questioning why Wardle did not take a photo of the bump on the back of her head. Wardle says Jane Doe declined photographs.

3:20 p.m. - Cox is questioning whether there were any bruises to Jane Doe's arms. Wardle says Jane Doe reported pain in her arm, but the exam did not show any scrapes or bruises.

3:16 p.m. - Police officers spoke with Jane Doe after the exam, Wardle said.

3:15 p.m. - Cox, von Ehlinger's attorney, is up now for cross-examination. Wardle is explaining that Boise Police has an office in FACES along with social workers and other agencies. "You're all part of the same team?" Cox asks. "No," Wardle replies.

3:07 p.m. - Wardle is describing the process of performing a rape kit, which involves collecting swabs.

2:58 p.m. - Jane Doe identified von Ehlinger as her assailant and described him to Wardle, she testified.

2:54 p.m. - Wardle said Jane Doe told her she had hit her head on the wall or headboard when she pulled away from von Ehlinger. The exam revealed "a lump or goose egg" on the back of her head.

2:53 p.m. - Jane Doe also told the nurse that von Ehlinger carries a handgun at all times. He took the gun off when they were in the bedroom and put it on the dresser, Wardle says.

2:52 p.m. - Jane Doe told Wardle she said no and "stopped participating," and that is when von Ehlinger pinned her down and forced himself on her orally, the nurse testified.

2:47 p.m. - Wardle says Jane Doe reported that von Ehlinger grabbed her by the hair and forced her head towards his crotch, then straddled her.

2:46 p.m. - Wardle says Jane Doe says Doe and von Ehlinger arrived at the apartment, she sat at the table, he took her hand and led her to the sofa, then tried to kiss her before picking her up and taking her into the bedroom.

2:41 p.m. - Wardle conducted an exam on Jane Doe on March 11, 2021, she testifies. Jane Doe "was pretty tearful," Wardle testified, and described injuries from the encounter.

2:24 p.m. - Wardle testifies that she is the coordinator on the community sexual assault team. She is going over her training and background as a nurse.

2:22 p.m. - Judge Reardon tells Cox he can object to prosecution questions as they come up, but stopped short of limiting what this witness (Wardle) can talk about.

2:21 p.m. - Cox is arguing, outside the presence of the jury, that Wardle shouldn't be allowed to testify about what Jane Doe said to her about her emotional state, but should be held to talking about the physical things she noticed in the exam.

2:20 p.m. - First witness is SAFE nurse Anne Wardle, who works at Faces of Hope and performed an exam on Jane Doe.

2:14 p.m. - Cox says once jurors review all the evidence, they will have to find von Ehlinger not guilty.

2:12 p.m. - Cox says Jane Doe and von Ehlinger continued to talk for some time after, then von Ehlinger drove her back to her car.

2:11 p.m. - Cox says Jane Doe consensually performed oral sex on von Ehlinger and was not forced. Cox continues: It was at that point that Jane Doe made comments about not being on birth control, according to the lawyer, so von Ehlinger asked if he could engage in other sexual acts that would not put her at risk of becoming pregnant.

2:08 p.m. - Cox says Jane Doe willingly went into the bedroom and it "got more involved, so to speak," Cox says. "From Aaron's standpoint, it was two consensual people engaged in making out."

2:06 p.m. - Cox says Jane Doe was not coerced or dragged out of von Ehlinger's car. The pair sat on the couch inside, then started to make out, according to the defense. 

2:05 p.m. - Aaron von Ehlinger borrowed his roommate's car and picked Jane Doe up. They stayed for more than three hours at the restaurant, but neither drank any alcohol, according to Cox. The defense says Jane Doe agreed to go back to his apartment.

2:03 p.m. - On March 2, 2021, Jane Doe and Aaron von Ehlinger met up outside the Statehouse for the first time and the lawmaker asked her on a date, to which Doe agreed. They agreed to go to Barbacoa for dinner on March 9.

2:01 p.m. - Von Ehlinger gave Jane Doe his cell number, and some time later, she texted him, Cox says.

1:59 p.m. - Jon Cox, von Ehlinger's defense attorney, is up now. He says von Ehlinger grew up in Montana, served in the military, then was appointed to the Idaho Legislature. He first met Jane Doe in another lawmaker's office, but didn't specifically seek her out, Cox says.

1:58 p.m. - von Ehlinger "used his power, both social and physical, to overcome [Jane Doe's] resistance to his unwanted sexual advances," Farley says.

1:56 p.m. - The intern told von Ehlinger that she didn't want to, she wasn't on birth control, they could get in trouble, she wasn't ready, that he was hurting her, and she told him no, Farley said. "He didn't stop and he didn't listen to [Jane Doe]," Farley said. 

1:55 p.m. - Farley says von Ehlinger and Jane Doe met at the Capitol; von Ehlinger gave her his cell phone and asked her on a date. After they went to dinner, he sexually assaulted her in his Boise apartment. "[Jane Doe] tried to resist; she tried to make excuses," Farley says.

1:50 p.m. - Prosecutor Katelyn Farley is up first for opening arguments. "This case is about power; power wielded in the wrong hands," she says.

1:41 p.m. - Judge Reardon says the responsibilities of a jury are to determine the facts and apply the law to reach a verdict.

1:39 p.m. - The judge is going over how the trial and jury deliberations will work.

1:38 p.m. - Court is back in session. Judge Reardon is explaining that there iss now a pool video photographer and still photographer in the courtroom. No pictures or video will be taken of the jurors.

12:46 p.m. - Break until 1:30 p.m.

12:44 p.m. - Jury selected: Six women and seven men, for 12 jurors and one alternate.

12:34 p.m. - Court is back in session. The prosecution and defense have made their selections.

12:17 p.m. - No jurors indicate that they wouldn’t be able to come to a conclusion if von Ehlinger doesn’t testify. 

12:13 p.m. - Cox asks who wants to hear what Aaron has to say, pretty much everyone raises their hands. 

12:10 p.m. - Cox now asks whether anyone thinks it is inappropriate for a 38-year-old to date a 19-year-old. 

12:05 p.m. - “He looks like a nice businessman,” she says.  Cox is asking whether she would still have a bias if the defense proves there was no power imbalance between his client and the 19-year-old. The same juror says she believes she has a bias against von Ehlinger based on what she has read about him. She is excused. 

12:03 p.m. - “I don’t believe that no one can lie,” she says, adds that she can be fair. Another juror said that what she has read in the news makes her sympathetic to the intern. She says she doesn’t have a bias against von Ehlinger. 

12:01 p.m. - Cox asks whether anyone believes that all allegations of sexual assault are true. One juror says she leans that way, because of how difficult it is to come forward about being raped. 

11:51 a.m. - Cox asks whether anybody has posted anything about this case online, or if anyone has seen Jane Doe's recent interview with the Idaho Press

11:46 a.m. - Another potential juror says she has five daughters, believes that might bias her against von Ehlinger. She's excused.

11:40 a.m. - Another woman says she believes rapists should be brought to justice, but false accusations are as damaging as sexual assault. 

11:34 a.m. - Cox is now asking about the "Me Too" movement. The vast majority of jurors indicate that they have heard of it. 

11:31 a.m. - "I find it pretty unconscionable that a person be a member of the Republican party at this time," one juror responds. He's excused.

11:30 a.m. - Von Ehlinger's attorney, Jon Cox, is up now. He's asking jurors whether the fact that von Ehlinger is a politician would bias any of them, and whether the fact that he is a Republican would filter in at all in their decision-making. 

11:02 a.m. - The prosecutor is now polling the jurors on whether they have opinions on how a victim should act after an assault, and whether their level of physical resistance plays a role. 

10:58 a.m. - More potential jurors are dismissed after saying they know people who have been sexually assaulted and could not be impartial in this case.

10:35 a.m. - The prosecutor asks whether anyone knows a survivor of sexual assault. Several people indicate yes. 

10:30 a.m. - The prosecutor is now asking questions of the potential jurors.

10:05 a.m. - More potential jurors are dismissed.

10:01 a.m. - Another juror says he has little kids - including a newborn - and has no childcare for the week. He is excused as well. 

9:59 a.m. - Another potential juror stands up to says his niece is the victim in a similar case, and does not believe he can be impartial. They're all excused. 

9:50 a.m. - Judge Reardon to potential jurors: Don't discuss the case with each other or anyone else. Don't look up info on the rape case, don't form an opinion until you have heard all the evidence/testimony. 

9:36 a.m. - As expected, jury selection is the first thing up. It's likely that we'll hear opening statements from the state and von Ehlinger's attorney this afternoon.

9:37 a.m. - Reporters and the public are now being let into the courtroom.

9:20 a.m. - Security has escorted a man out of the area.

9:00 a.m. - We've been notified by the court that the state filed a motion to not allow livestreaming from the trial. The judge agreed. We will keep this live blog updated with the latest from court.

8:00 a.m. - Von Ehlinger's trial is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. It will likely start with jury selection, which will not be livestreamed. 

VON EHLINGER TRIAL BACKGROUND

Von Ehlinger, a Republican from Juliaetta, resigned from his seat in the Idaho House in April 2021 after a legislative ethics committee found that he had committed "conduct unbecoming a representative" in his romantic pursuit of the 19-year-old and several other women who worked at the Idaho Capitol.

Von Ehlinger admitted to the sexual encounter, but said it was consensual. He told members of the ethics committee he did not believe it was inappropriate for a lawmaker to have a sexual relationship with a 19-year-old legislative staffer.  

A warrant for the former lawmaker's arrest was issued in September. Von Ehlinger had left the country months prior on what his lawyer described as an extended vacation in Central America; he was taken into custody at the Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport in Atlanta, Georgia on Sept. 25 when his flight back into the United States landed.

If convicted, von Ehlinger could face up to life in prison and be ordered to register as a sex offender.

 

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