Jury begins deliberations in rape trial of Idaho ex-lawmaker

BOISE, Idaho (AP) — Jurors have begun deliberating in the rape trial of a former Idaho lawmaker accused of sexually assaulting a legislative intern last year.

Aaron von Ehlinger, 39, has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object — both charges carry a maximum penalty of up to life in prison — and maintains he had consensual sex with the woman.

He took the stand Thursday morning and told jurors that the sexual contact was the culmination of a first date with the then-19-year-old intern.

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

During his testimony, 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.”

In the bedroom, things became “hot and heavy,” von Ehlinger said, and he stepped away to disrobe behind his closet door, carefully hanging up his suit jacket, tie and slacks, before returning to the bed. At his suggestion, Doe briefly performed oral sex, he said. He also denied carrying a gun that night, and said he seldom carries one.

“Very rarely, and certainly not with a suit on,” von Ehlinger said.

But while under questioning from Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley, he acknowledged that he described the events of that night differently in statements drafted by two different attorneys he previously hired to represent him. In those statements, he said he and Doe took each other’s clothes off.

He also said he generally carried concealed weapons when he did carry guns, most often a small handgun that he would place in the front pocket of his jeans or suit pants.

Doe told her supervisors that von Ehlinger, who was then a Republican representative from Lewiston, raped her in March 2021 at his Boise apartment after the two had dinner at a restaurant. Von Ehlinger resigned from the House of Representatives last year after a legislative ethics committee recommended that he be banned from the Statehouse because of his conduct with Doe.

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 Wednesday, the jury also briefly heard from Jane Doe, but the judge instructed them not to consider her testimony after Doe fled before she could be questioned by the defense.

Doe haltingly described the moments the alleged assault began, before abruptly leaving the witness stand.

“He laid me down … he removed his clothes … he climbed on top of me … in just his boxers. White T-shirt,” Doe said. “He tried to put his fingers between my legs and I closed my knees.”

At that, she stood up.

“I can’t do this,” she said, quickly walking out of the courtroom.

Before von Ehlinger took the stand, Judge Michael Reardon rejected a motion from the defense attorney suggesting von Ehlinger should be acquitted on all charges.

The lawyer, Jon Cox, said there wasn’t sufficient evidence — based on the statements that Doe made to Anne Wardle, the nurse who examined the intern after the alleged rape — that she adequately resisted von Ehlinger’s advances.

“I would submit that there’s no testimony from Ms. Wardle that (Doe) did nothing other than make excuses for why she didn’t want to do it,” Cox said. “I don’t think that rises to the level of being against her will — she didn’t say, ‘Don’t do that, I don’t want that.’”

But Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Farley said Cox was mischaracterizing the testimony, noting that Wardle and investigators testified that Doe told them she said no.

Farley also said the testimony showed that von Ehlinger was much bigger than Doe, carried a gun, physically pulled her onto a couch and carried her into the bedroom and that she resisted in several ways.

The judge rejected Cox’s motion and referred to additional testimony from Wardle.

“As I have heard the evidence it appears to me there is sufficient evidence of use of force — statements about her jerking her head back and hitting the wall causing an appreciable bruise,” Reardon said.