Former Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger found guilty of rape

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Former Idaho State Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger on Friday was found guilty of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern.

Brian Myrick / Idaho Press

Former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger was found guilty Friday of raping a legislative intern by a 12-person jury after 11 hours of deliberations on the course of two days.

The jurors’ decision followed an emotional three-day trial in which key testimony from the woman, now 20, was cut short and stricten from deliberations.

Von Ehlinger was accused of two felony counts, rape and forcible penetration by use of a foreign object. The former intern, 19 at the time of the sexual assault, said he forced himself on her at his apartment after they had dinner. The jury found him not guilty on the forcible penetration charge.

“Victims can be believed,” Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts said at a news conference Friday, alongside the two prosecutors assigned to the case.

The 39-year-old von Ehlinger has repeatedly denied the accusations against him and maintained that he had consensual sex with the accuser, identified by the initials JV in court. Von Ehlinger, a Juliaetta resident, resigned from the Idaho House last year just hours after a legislative ethics committee unanimously recommended to expel the Republican from his seat.

Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, quickly walked away Friday when asked by a member of the media for a comment. The Statesman’s efforts to reach Cox were unsuccessful.

Von Ehlinger could face anywhere from one year to life in prison and will be required to register as a sex offender. His sentencing is scheduled for 9 am on July 28.

Former Idaho lawmaker Aaron von Ehlinger judgment.jpg
Former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger was arrested Friday, April 29, 2022, and booked into the Ada County Jail after he was found guilty of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern by a 12-person jury. James Dawson Boise State Public Radio

The former lawmaker was immediately taken into police custody Friday and will be booked into the Ada County Jail.

‘I can’t do this’: Accuser cuts testimony short

Throughout the trial, the court heard testimony from over half a dozen witnesses — a majority of them called by the prosecution — who testified about the sexual assault. That included a nurse who examined JV and two detectives who spoke to her.

The jury also heard von Ehlinger’s nearly two-hour testimony Thursday, when he recounted a different version of events on the night of March 9, 2021, when the rape occurred.

Jurors arrived at the verdict despite being unable to use key testimony from the accuser. JV tested briefly on Wednesday, but abruptly left the stand in the middle of describing the sexual assault.

JV said von Ehlinger had put his hand between her legs, and she closed her legs, shortly before she cut her testimony short. Since von Ehlinger’s attorney was unable to cross-examine her, 4th District Court Judge Michael Reardon instructed the jury to strike the testimony.

“I can’t do this,” JV said as she walked away from the witness stand.

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Margueritte Farley said the prosecution prepped its case knowing how difficult it would be for JV to enter the courtroom.

von ehlinger press conference
Ada County prosecutors (from left to right) Katelyn Margueritte Farley, Jan Bennetts and Whitney Welsh speak to the media after Aaron von Ehlinger was found guilty of rape on Friday, April 29, 2022. Alex Brizee Idaho Statesman

Legal system ‘traumatizing’ for sexual assault survivors

Lisa Growette Bostaph, a Boise State University criminal justice professor, told the Idaho Statesman by phone that recounting a sexual assault experience is retraumatizing for survivors. She said it’s best practice for police to limit the number of questions and the number of times survivors must recount the events.

“You have to discuss something incredibly traumatic and incredibly personal, in front of strangers — when you likely didn’t even want to tell your parents,” Bostaph said. “There isn’t enough preparation to predict whether or not a victim is going to be able to overcome that unnatural environment to provide a recounting of an extraordinarily traumatic event.”

Sexual assault cases are also less likely to lead to a conviction than other crimes.

Out of 217 reported rape cases in Ada County, only 13% of them led to an arrest, according to data from the Crime in Idaho report. Two out of three sexual assault cases never get reported to police, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN.

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Whitney Welsh, a prosecutor on the case against von Ehlinger, said it was critical to let JV decide whether she was ready to testify.

“I think it’s important that she decided to walk in the room and she also decided to walk out,” Welsh said at Friday’s press conference.

When asked by the Statesman about the barriers sexual assault victims face throughout the legal system, Bennetts said raising awareness is key.

“Obviously, it’s one of those things where victims feel, you know, a lot of emotions and coming forward and what it’s going to be like for them,” Bennetts said. “You’re covering it and raising awareness.”

Prior Statesman coverage

Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, accused of rape, takes the stand; jury deliberates

Former legislative intern accusing Aaron von Ehlinger of rape testifies

Former Idaho legislator was returning from Central America when arrested in Georgia

Idaho legislator accused of sexual assault resigns after ethics panel pushes expulsion

Idaho lawmaker accused of sexual misconduct, his accuser testify at House ethics committee

Idaho lawmaker made other women ‘uncomfortable,’ was told to stop by House Republicans

This story was originally published Apr 29, 2022 1:29 PM.

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Alex Brizee covers breaking news and crime for the Idaho Statesman. A Miami native and a University of Idaho graduate, she has lived all over the United States. Go Vandals! In her free time, she loves pad Thai, cuddling with her dog and strong coffee.
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