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'I can't do this': Intern who accused Idaho lawmaker of rape bolts mid-testimony

Former lawmaker Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Juliaetta, is on trial for sexually assaulting the 19-year-old during the 2021 legislative session.

BOISE, Idaho — Note: This story contains graphic content and accounts of sexual assault that may be disturbing to some readers. 

An intern who says she was sexually assaulted by a state lawmaker during the 2021 legislative session took the stand Wednesday afternoon, only to abruptly leave the courtroom in the middle of her testimony. 

"I can't do this," Jane Doe said as she bolted from the room. 

The prosecution asked for ten minutes to try and convince the young woman to return, then asked the judge if the hearing could be paused until the next morning, to see if she would be willing to pick up her testimony then.

But as it became clear Jane Doe would not come back, the prosecution rested its case. 

Aaron von Ehlinger, 39, is charged with rape and forcible penetration, both felonies. 

The 19-year-old intern told police that she had been sexually assaulted by von Ehlinger at his Boise apartment after the pair went out to dinner together the night of March 9, 2021.

Jane Doe told detectives and the nurse who performed her sexual assault exam that the then-lawmaker penetrated her with his finger, pinned her down, forced his penis into her mouth, and masturbated onto her despite Jane Doe physically pulling away, telling him "no," and saying she did not want to continue and that he was hurting her.

On the stand Wednesday, the woman gave monosyllabic answers to Prosecutor Katelyn Farley's questions, staring frequently towards the defense table where von Ehlinger sat and at the exit to the courtroom. 

"Focus on me," Farley pleaded at one point.

"I can't, she responded. 

Before leaving the room, Jane Doe testified that von Ehlinger had given her cookies and his cell phone number while she was working at the Statehouse, then later asked her on a date. She said she could not remember what restaurant they went to for dinner, but did remember returning to the lawmaker's downtown apartment. 

In a low voice, she recounted eating some Oreos inside his unit before von Ehlinger picked her up, carried her to the bedroom, placed her on the bed, and took off her clothes. He climbed on top of her in just his boxers and a T-shirt, she said. The lawmaker tried to put his fingers inside her, she said, but she closed her legs.

Jane Doe stopped talking. 

She looked again towards the door. 

She rose to her feet, and then she was gone. 

Judge Michael Reardon ordered the woman's testimony stricken from the record; von Ehlinger's defense attorney had not gotten a chance to cross-examine her before she left. Reardon told the jurors they could not consider what she had said in their deliberations, and should act as if Jane Doe never entered the courtroom or said a word.

Jane Doe's mother testified for the prosecution earlier that morning, describing a phone call from her daughter on March 11, 2021. Her daughter sounded afraid, and had been crying, she testified.

The mother told her daughter to turn her attacker in, and Jane Doe went to the assistant sergeant-of-arms for the Idaho House, Kim Blackburn, according to testimony.

Blackburn said on the stand that Jane Doe - who she had met as a high school House page the previous year - recounted what had happened and named von Ehlinger as her assailant. 

Blackburn took the report directly to Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, she testified. Jane Doe underwent a sexual assault exam at FACES of Hope and spoke to Boise Police detectives the same day. 

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 sexually pursuing the intern and several other women who worked at the Capitol building. The rape charges were filed and von Ehlinger was taken into custody in September. 

Dr. Laura King, an associate professor of criminal justice at Boise State and expert witness on victims of sexual assault, testified that victims who report their rapes typically come forward more than 24 hours after it happened, with some coming forward weeks, months, or even years later. The majority of sexual assaults go unreported entirely, she said.

King said the trauma of an assault releases a flood of hormones that can spark "tonic immobility" - being frozen, unable to move, speak, or fight back - as well as lead to later issues including depression, dissociation, and PTSD.

She further testified that recounting a sexual assault can lead to trauma responses similar to those experienced in the moment of victimization, with some people shutting down, remembering events out of order, or refusing to answer questions.

"There is no right or wrong way to respond" to a sexual assault, she said.

The trial is expected to start up again Thursday morning with the presentation from the defense. Defense attorney Jon Cox told the judge he may call von Ehlinger himself to the stand, but that in light of Jane Doe's testimony being thrown out, will not call any other witnesses. 

Reardon said the case may be handed over to jurors for deliberation as early as Thursday afternoon. 

If convicted, von Ehlinger faces up to life in prison and mandatory registration as a sex offender.

Live updates from court:

2:03 p.m. - Jury is back in. The prosecution rests. Jane Doe will not testify.

2:01 p.m. - It sounds like we will be wrapping up early today.

2 p.m. - Farley said the prosecution will rest -- meaning that Jane Doe will not come back. Cox said he isn't ready to take up his witnesses. "Why not?" Reardon asks him, sounding a little aggravated. "It's obviously gone a lot faster than we thought it would," Cox says. He is asking to have until Thursday to call his defense witnesses. If Cox calls anyone Thursday, it will be von Ehlinger, he tells the judge.

1:57 p.m. - Court is now in recess.

1:57 p.m. - That's all for King. Other than Jane Doe -- if she comes back Thursday -- King was the last witness for the prosecution.

1:56 p.m. - "Rape is understood to be about power and control," King says.

1:54 p.m. - On redirect, King testifies that her research is based on science. Farley (prosecution) is asking about Jane Doe talking to the media. Farley asks: "If the victim has been pushed or forced into the public eye or into the media, would that affect that?" Cox objects; the objection is sustained. Before getting cut off, King says "research indicates false reports are very rare."

1:52 p.m. - Cox is asking whether someone who was isolated and traumatized would grant an interview to the press. King responds by saying most cases she has been involved in don't involve media coverage, so she can't speak to that.

1:52 p.m. - Under questions, King says she has not researched the case, talked to victim or suspect, and does not have any evidence specific to this case -- as opposed to in general about rape victims.

1:50 p.m. - Defense (Cox) now asking whether King always believes someone who says he or she was victimized. "If I was to say to you, '25 years ago my uncle molested me,' you'd believe me, would you not?" Cox asks. "Yes," King responds. "That didn't happen," Cox said.

1:48 p.m. - Cox asks King whether she would testify for von Ehlinger if they hired her. King kind of shrugs, says she isn't sure, and has never been approached by the defense.

1:47 p.m. - Cox is up now to cross-examine the witness, Dr. King. Cox asks: "You are an ardent advocate of sexual and domestic violence, right?" King responds: "Against it."

1:45 p.m. - The hormones that are released in a trauma can mess with memory and recall, King says, with many victims recalling things out of order.

1:44 p.m. - "There is no right or wrong way to respond" to trauma, King says. She testifies that recounting a sexual assault can have a traumatic effect as well.

1:43 p.m. - PTSD is common in rape victims, King says. There are also "social consequences" that can isolate the victim; those are magnified if the sexual assault is made public, King says.

1:42 p.m. - "Sexual violence is understood to be about power and control," King says. King is talking now about "coercive control" -- things like physical size, social status, that someone can wield to gain power over another.

1:40 p.m. - "They may blame themselves for not having resisted," King says of victims. Research shows that when the victim knows her assailant, she is less likely to physically fight back, King says.

1:39 p.m. - "Tonic immobility" -- freezing -- is not uncommon with sex assault victims, King says. Cox is objecting to King discussing medical terms, saying she's not a medical doctor. The objection is overruled.

1:37 p.m. - Following a trauma, many victims go into a fight, flight or freeze -- a victim so afraid they cannot move or speak, King says. She also testifies that some victims might have dissociative events after that, leading to things like hyperfocus on a "random thing," closing themselves off, or not answering questions.

1:35 p.m. - Victims may be unsure who to tell, embarrassed about what happened, or not thinking rationally due to their trauma, King testifies. There's "no right way" victims should respond to trauma, she says.

1:33 p.m. - "Sexual violence is the most unreported violent crime," King says, adding that most reports are delayed at least 24 hours after the assault, but days, months, years later is not uncommon.

1:33 p.m. - King doesn't know Jane Doe or von Ehlinger, and has not read reports on the case.

1:29 p.m. - Dr. Laura King is an associate professor of criminal justice at Boise State University. Her research is on victimization -- particularly as it relates to sexual violence.

1:27 p.m. - The jury is back. Farley calls Dr. Laura King to the stand.

1:26 p.m. - If Jane Doe doesn't come back, Judge Reardon says, he will strike her testimony and tell the jury to proceed as if she never took the stand at all.

1:25 p.m. - Judge Reardon wants the prosecution to call their last witness, Dr. King, today. Cox doesn't want the doctor to opine on what just happened, with Jane Doe leaving mid-testimony. He says he has never seen that happen before.

1:24 p.m. - The jury is not in the room. The lawyers and Judge Reardon are talking about the account Jane Doe gave to the nurse who performed her sexual assault exam, and how much of that can be used. "I am really not interested in losing the rest of the day, Ms. Farley," Reardon said.

1:19 p.m. - Farley: Jane Doe has left the courthouse, and "is not in a state" where she can return. She is asking to end the trial for the day to give them more time to convince Doe to come back and testify in the morning.

1 p.m. - Prosecutor Farley asks for a little bit of time to try and convince Jane Doe to come back. Reardon says OK.  If she won't come back, the judge says, he will likely be asked to strike her testimony (since defense wouldn't have a chance to cross-examine her). The defense could also possibly ask for a mistrial, although that has not happened yet.

12:58 p.m. - Jane Doe just got up and walked out of the courtroom. Judge Reardon calls a recess.

12:58 p.m. - Jane Doe said von Ehlinger tried to put his fingers inside her, but she closed her legs. "I can't do this," Doe said.

12:56 p.m. - Inside von Ehlinger's apartment, Jane Doe ate some Oreos. Then-Rep. von Ehlinger was in the bathroom, then came out and picked her up, carried her into the bedroom and put her on the bed. Doe testified that he took off her clothes. "He climbed on top of me in just his boxers," she said.

12:55 p.m. - Jane Doe is staring von Ehlinger down. "Focus on me," the prosecutor tells her.

12:54 p.m. - After they got to the apartment, "he opened the door, and said there were cookies upstairs," Jane Doe testified.

12:54 p.m. - Jon Cox, von Ehlinger's attorney, asked to approach the bench. The lawyers confer quietly with the judge.

12:53 p.m. - Jane Doe says on the night of March 9, 2021, she and von Ehlinger went out to dinner, but she doesn't remember where. She testifies that von Ehlinger picked her up in front of the statehouse.

12:52 p.m. - Prosecutor asks Jane Doe: "Will you look at me?" Jane Doe: "I can't."

12:51 p.m. - Jane Doe testifies that she was an intern in March 2021. She met von Ehlinger there, she said. He gave her cookies and his number on a card.

12:49 p.m. - Jane Doe is taking the stand.

12:45 p.m. - Judge Reardon just entered the courtroom. Somebody's cell phone went off right as he came in. "That's not a good start," the judge said.

11:09 a.m. - Court taking an early lunch break, until 12:45 p.m.

11:07 a.m. - Blackburn's testimony, including cross-examination, are finished. She steps down from the witness stand.

11:05 a.m. - Blackburn says she has heard the House has not adopted the Respectful Workplace guidelines, but she is not in charge of that. Cox then asks whether Blackburn was aware that Jane Doe was of legal age in 2021. Blackburn responds that she was aware.

11:04 a.m. - Cox is up for cross-examination. He asks Blackburn, "It is true, is it not, that the House of Representatives has adopted the Respectful Workplace guidelines?"

11:02 a.m. - Boise Police asked Blackburn to prepare a written statement about what happened, and she did.

11:01 a.m. - Blackburn testifies she went to House Speaker Scott Bedke and told him what Jane Doe had said.

11 a.m. - Blackburn testifies that Jane Doe got up abruptly, put her hand over her mouth, and said, "I've got to go." The intern then went back into the House chamber, to the area where the bathrooms are.

10:57 a.m. - Blackburn asked if Jane Doe wanted to report what happened. She says she didn't want to influence Doe either way. Blackburn testifies: "I would help her do whatever she wanted done."

10:56 a.m. - Blackburn testifies that Jane Doe gave her a name at the end of the conversation about what happened to her.

10:55 a.m. - Blackburn says Jane Doe told her she was afraid.

10:53 a.m. - "She seemed urgent about what she needed to talk to me about; I would say a little anxious," Blackburn says, also testifying that Jane Doe spoke very quietly as she told Blackburn what happened to her. "Once the conversation started and I realized what I was listening to, I immediately went into more of a triage mode where I was just trying to figure out what she was saying." Blackburn also says she was not there to interview Doe; she was there to listen.

10:50 a.m. - The morning of March 11, 2021, Jane Doe came into the third-floor House lunge and asked to talk to Blackburn in private.

10:48 a.m. - Blackburn says she schedules pages for Respectful Workplace training and tells them all that "if they feel uncomfortable about anything" during their employment, they should tell a trusted adult as soon as possible. Jane Doe took that training, Blackburn testifies.

10:45 a.m. - Jane Doe came in as a House page in 2020, Blackburn says. She came back the next session as an intern. "She was no different than any of the other pages. I consider them all to be top-notch kids," Blackburn says.

10:42 a.m. - The Idaho State Capitol also has an intern program. Blackburn says pages don't work for a specific representative. Interns are assigned to a party -- Republican or Democratic -- and typically work with one or two lawmakers. "It's more one-on-one when you are an intern" rather than a page, Blackburn testifies.

10:41 a.m. - Blackburn's duties as assistant sergeant at arms for the Idaho House include getting things ready for the start of the session, hiring House pages, etc. Pages are high school students who work in the committee rooms and in the House chamber, Blackburn testifies. She also describes herself as a "direct supervisor" for the pages.

10:36 a.m. - Jane Doe's mother is excused from the witness stand. Kim Blackburn, Assistant Sergeant at Arms for the Idaho House, is up next.

10:32 a.m. - Cox asks whether Jane Doe's mother was relieved to hear that there was "no penetration." The prosecution immediately objects, and Reardon sustains the objection. That's the end of the cross-examination.

10:30 a.m. - Jane Doe's mom says, under questioning, that her daughter worked for a domestic violence advocacy center in Caldwell at one time, before the assault.

10:28 a.m. - "She didn't take guff from pretty much anybody, didn't she?" Cox asks. Jane Doe's mom says that is true.

10:27 a.m. - Jon Cox, for the defense, is up for cross-examination. He is asking if Jane Doe's relationship with her mother was at all strained. Doe's mother says no, it wasn't.

10:25 a.m. - Jane Doe's mom says her phone call with her daughter on March 11, 2021, lasted about an hour. Within a few days, Doe talked to her in person, with more details. "She was still, you know, broke down when she was talking about it. She was still upset," Doe's mother testifies.

10:25 a.m. - Prosecution says they have three more witnesses to call after Jane Doe's mother, including "potentially" Jane Doe.

10:16 a.m. - Court in a brief break now.

10:14 a.m. - Prosecution argues the doxxing and trauma are relevant because that originally swayed Jane Doe away from pursuing charges.

10:13 a.m. - Judge Reardon says the credibility of the trauma comes from a first-person testimony, not observational testimony.

10:08 a.m. - Judge Reardon does not sound convinced that the doxxing is irrelevant to the case. He says Jane Doe can testify to that, but he is not sure that should come through third-party witnesses. "The credibility question, it seems to me, would only come up if she testifies," Reardon says.

10:06 a.m. - Cox argues that the doxxing "is absolutely not related to Aaron," and is irrelevant.

10:04 a.m. - Prosecutor Whitney Welsh asks if Jane Doe's mom later became aware that her daughter's identity had been released publicly. Cox immediately objects. Judge Reardon calls for a brief recess.

10:03 a.m. - Doe's mother does not recall asking any specific questions; she was focused on listening. 

10:02 a.m. - Her daughter said she was afraid to to go into work, and was unsure what to do. Mom encouraged Jane Doe to "turn that person in," and report it to whoever she needed to. Doe had to leave for work at that time.

10:01 a.m. - "She was very quiet, like she was scared," Jane Doe's mother said, referring to their March 11, 2021, phone conversation. "She had been crying. She was like whispering. I don't know. It made me very concerned because that was not how she would talk on the phone to me."

9:59 a.m. - Jane Doe was working as an intern at the Idaho Capitol in March 2021, and had worked there the year before as a page, starting at age 17, Doe's mother testifies. On March 11, she says, her daughter called her at about 7:30 a.m. The alleged assault was the night of March 9.

9:57 a.m. - Jane Doe's mother testifies she and her daughter have a close relationship. "She is very independent, strong, patient, confident -- or was," she says. "She is amazing to me."

9:54 a.m. - Cox questioning Hughes: DNA tests do not prove a rape was committed, correct? And it doesn't prove there was no consent? Hughes' answer: Right.

9:51 a.m. - Hughes testifies that a low level of male DNA was detected in Jane Doe's vaginal and external genital swabs, but it was below the cutoff for analysis. Oral swabs were inconclusive for presence of male DNA, Hughes says, but the swab on Doe's stomach had enough DNA evidence to move forward in the analysis. Eric Seat with ISP testified Tuesday that the evidence collected in that swab was a match for von Ehlinger.

9:41 a.m. - Kira Hughes with ISP forensics testifies that she analyzed the sexual assault kit from Jane Doe and the buccal swabs (cheek swabs) Boise Police collected from von Ehlinger.

9:34 a.m. - Cox asks Joseph if he looked at security cameras in the parking area, and whether that could have been important. Joseph says he did not. Joseph testifies that Jane Doe reported the assault happened inside von Ehlinger's apartment, not the parking garage.

9:33 a.m. - Jon Cox, von Ehlinger's attorney, now questioning Joseph. He confirms von Ehlinger consented to the swab and that a warrant was not used.

9:31 a.m. - Det. Joseph says he also collected the clothing Jane Doe was wearing the night of the alleged assault. He also collected texts between her and von Ehlinger. He doesn't say what the texts said.

9:28 a.m. - Iverson finished testifying. Boise Police Det. Brandon Joseph with the Special Victims Unit is on the stand. He testifies that he met with Jane Doe after she went to police. Joseph also testifies that he met with von Ehlinger on March 22, and collected cheek swabs of saliva and skin cells from him.

9:25 a.m. - Det. Monte Iverson on the stand. He testifies that his first contact with Jane Doe was on March 11. He met her at the Capitol, and referred her to FACES. Defense asks Iverson whether the parking garage for von Ehlinger's apartment had video cameras. Iverson says he doesn't know, and did not look around the parking area for cameras. He also says Doe did not want to go forward with a case until she first spoke with a lawyer. 

8:30 a.m. - Day 2 of the trial is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. KTVB has a reporter in the courtroom.

Recap of day 1 of the trial

Prosecutors have indicated they will call seven or more witnesses to the stand Wednesday, including Jane Doe.

Von Ehlinger was charged with felony counts of rape and forcible penetration after an intern at the Idaho Statehouse told police he had sexually assaulted her in his apartment during the 2021 legislative session.

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. 

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