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Former Idaho representative found guilty of felony rape in trial involving legislative intern

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Former Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger is taken into custody by an Ada County Sheriff’s deputy following a jury’s guilty verdict for one count of felony rape. The jury found von Ehlinger not guilty of another felony charge, forcible penetration with a foreign object. The verdict was announced on April 29, 2022, in the Ada County Courthouse in Boise after 11 hours of jury deliberation. (James Dawson/Boise State Public Radio)

Jury finds Aaron von Ehlinger not guilty of penetration charge

Exactly one year to the day that former Lewiston Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger resigned from his seat after a House ethics panel recommended his suspension over his conduct as a legislator, a jury in Ada County found him guilty of rape and not guilty of forcible penetration with a foreign object.

Von Ehlinger was arrested and taken into state custody following the guilty verdict.

The two crimes he was charged with, both felonies, stem from a night in March 2021 when von Ehlinger said he asked the alleged victim, a 19-year-old legislative intern, to dinner, then took her back to his apartment, where she said he forced her to perform oral sex and inserted his fingers inside of her without her consent.

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

The decision came after about 11 total hours of deliberation, including seven hours of deliberation Thursday evening.

Von Ehlinger will be sentenced at 9 a.m. July 28. Under Idaho Code, he faces between one year and life in prison. District Judge Michael Reardon ordered a psychosocial evaluation of von Ehlinger in the meantime.

Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts thanked the jury for its time and attention to the case, and thanked Deputy Prosecuting Attorneys Katelyn Farley and Whitney Welsh, who she said worked tirelessly on the case and fought for Doe.

The decision came on the fourth day of the trial, which was slightly shorter than its scheduled five days. While Doe took the stand on Wednesday, she abruptly left less than 10 minutes into her testimony, saying, “I can’t do this.” Afterward, Reardon instructed the jury to disregard her testimony.

Annie Hightower, who has acted as Doe’s personal attorney since the ethics hearing in April 2021, said the case was a real-time view into why survivors of sexual assault don’t report what happened to them. There is ongoing trauma associated with retelling the story, and Doe faced harassment online and when she testified at the ethics hearing last year, she said.

“Today, the focus should be on my client and her healing. What happened today doesn’t heal her,” Hightower said. But the prosecutors who worked on the case helped bring her a little justice, she said.

“The prosecutors listened to her and they believed her,” Hightower said. “They supported her. (They were) her biggest advocate during this process. … I hope that this will help other survivors who maybe didn’t come forward or are thinking of coming forward to help them know that people believe them.”

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.

He resigned from the Legislature following an ethics hearing in the House of Representatives in April 2021 after committee members recommended his suspension or expulsion for the alleged conduct.