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Jury trial begins for former Lewiston representative charged with rape

Aaron von Ehlinger Trial
Brian Myrick/Brian Myrick / Idaho Press
Former Idaho State Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger looks on from the defense table during the opening day of testimony in his rape trial at the Ada County Courthouse, Tuesday, April 26, 2022.

A jury of 13 Ada County residents was selected and heard the first day of trial proceedings on Tuesday for former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who is charged with felony rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object

Von Ehlinger, 39, is accused of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern in March 2021, when the former intern said the two went to dinner and then to his apartment.

Jury selection began Tuesday morning and ended around noon. Many jurors were excused because they were familiar with the case from media coverage or expressed an inability to be impartial because they knew someone who had been sexually assaulted.

Von Ehlinger has maintained he is innocent and said the sexual activity was consensual.

The Idaho Capital Sun does not identify alleged victims of rape or sexual assault and refers to the former intern as Jane Doe.

During opening statements, Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley told the jury the case is about power, given von Ehlinger’s status as a legislator at the time of the alleged assault. Von Ehlinger’s defense attorney, Jon Cox, detailed the events leading up to the night von Ehlinger asked Doe to have dinner with him, saying Doe reached out to von Ehlinger first and didn’t object to going to his apartment.

Farley only had time to call two witnesses during the afternoon. The first was Anne Wardle, a registered nurse at Saint Alphonsus Regional Medical Center who is a sexual assault nurse examiner. Wardle also appeared at von Ehlinger’spreliminary hearing in October to talk about how she examined Doe after the night in question at the Faces of Hope Victim Center in Boise, and she made notes of Doe’s statements and physical condition.

Cox objected several times to Wardle’s testimony, saying her third-hand information about Doe shouldn’t be acceptable in lieu of Doe testifying herself. Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon allowed most of Wardle’s testimony to be heard.

Farley said the state expects to call Doe as a witness during Wednesday’s court proceedings. Farley also called Eric Seat, a forensic scientist with Idaho State Police Forensic Services, to confirm the DNA swabbed from Doe’s stomach matched von Ehlinger, who she said ejaculated onto her stomach during the alleged assault.

Von Ehlinger served in the Legislature for less than one year. Gov. Brad Little appointed von Ehlinger to the Idaho House of Representatives on June 3, 2020, to fill the seat held by the late Rep. Thyra Stevenson. Von Ehlinger then ran unopposed in the November 2020 general election, where he was elected to a two-year term.

The trial is expected to last five days, and will continue at 9 a.m. Wednesday at the Ada County Courthouse.

If convicted, von Ehlinger faces between one year and life in prison and would have to register with the Idaho sex offender registry, according toIdaho Code.

The Idaho Capital Sun is a nonprofit news organization delivering accountability reporting on state government, politics and policy in the Gem state. As longtime Idahoans ourselves, we understand the challenges and opportunities facing Idaho. We provide in-depth reporting on legislative and state policy, health care, tax policy, the environment, Idaho’s explosive population growth and more. Our mission is relentless investigative journalism that sheds light on how decisions in Boise and beyond are made and how they affect everyday Idahoans. We aim to tell untold stories and provide data, context and analysis on the issues that matter most throughout the state. The Capital Sun is part of States Newsroom, a national 501(c)(3) nonprofit supported by grants and a coalition of donors and readers. We retain full editorial independence.