Ex-Republican Lawmaker’s Trial for Raping Teen Intern Goes Off the Rails


Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty

Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman/Tribune News Service via Getty

A disgraced Republican lawmaker charged with raping a teenage intern testified on Thursday that he believed the act had been consensual, following a first date he described as a successful one.

But in the middle of her own testimony a day earlier, former Idaho State Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger’s accuser, identified in court filings only as “Jane Doe,” became so distressed that she fled the courtroom, saying, “I can’t do this” as she walked out.

When it became apparent that Doe would not be returning, the prosecution rested its case, bringing an abrupt end to a lurid trial that has captured national attention.

Given Doe could not be cross-examined, Judge Michael Reardon ordered her testimony stricken from the record, telling jurors to disregard everything she said. The jury will now have to deliberate “as if she never showed up at all,” said criminal defense lawyer David P. Shapiro, who is not involved with the case but who has handled numerous similar ones.

“It’s hard to unring that bell,” Shapiro told The Daily Beast. Still, he continued, “It will be very very difficult, if not impossible, to get a conviction without her testimony.”

Prosecutors allege von Ehlinger, 39, forced Doe, 19, to perform oral sex on him, and penetrated her with his finger at his Boise home after the two went out to dinner in March 2021. Von Ehlinger resigned the next month before he could be expelled from the state legislature, following a bipartisan ethics committee’s finding that he engaged in “behavior unbecoming.” That September, a warrant for his arrest was issued. He was taken into custody later that month at Atlanta’s international airport as he returned to the U.S. from an extended vacation in Central America—which von Ehlinger’s lawyer insisted had been pre-planned and not an attempt to evade justice.

Doe, for her part, was targeted by von Ehlinger’s fellow Republicans from the get-go. Last August, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, a Republican from the tiny town of White Bird, exposed Doe’s identity on social media and in an email to constituents, with right-wing blogs subsequently posting Doe’s name and photo online.

In his testimony, von Ehlinger said he met Doe and gave her his cellphone number after inviting her up to his office to look at his artwork in January 2021. He said they would see each other around the Statehouse once in a while, and would talk. But he was not hitting on her, he insisted.

The two made dinner plans in early March after Doe texted him to say hi, according to von Ehlinger. He picked her up in his roommate’s car, and took her to eat at Barbacoa, a Spanish steakhouse in Boise, he testified. Neither of them drank any alcohol during the three-hour meal, he said.

Doe held his hand on the ride back to his place, von Ehlinger claimed, noting that when they arrived at his apartment building, he parked in a handicapped spot and took Doe upstairs.

“Things were going well, and I asked… if she would like to move to the bedroom,” von Ehlinger said Thursday on the stand. “She said ‘Sure.’ We got up, held hands and walked into the bedroom.”

Doe said previously that von Ehlinger always carried a gun, and that he had unholstered it upon arriving home and placed it on the nightstand. In court, von Ehlinger denied this, saying that he “very rarely” carried his gun, which he claimed was in the closet that night.

“I complimented her, I let her know how beautiful she was,” von Ehlinger testified.

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Von Ehlinger claimed Doe never said she was uncomfortable with what was happening, and “willingly” performed oral sex on him for about 15 seconds. Then, he said she stopped, saying that “tonight is probably not a good night to have sex” because she hadn’t shaved and was not on birth control. He then stimulated himself manually and ejaculated on Doe’s stomach, he said in court.

“She never once gave me any indication that she did not want to participate in this,” von Ehlinger said.

In a criminal complaint filed last October, along with testimony this week, prosecutors laid out a raft of details they argued undercut von Ehlinger’s claims. Doe resisted von Ehlinger’s unwanted advances, the complaint states, however “her resistance was overcome by…an objectively reasonable belief that resistance would be futile or that resistance would result in force or violence” by von Ehlinger.

In her opening arguments earlier this week, prosecutor Katelyn Farley described the case as being “about power—power wielded in the wrong hands.” She said von Ehlinger told Doe that he needed to stop by his apartment after dinner to pick something up but once they got there, von Ehringer allegedly carried her into his bedroom and assaulted her, forcing his penis into her mouth and pinning her arms down with his legs as he ejaculated on her.

“He didn’t stop and he didn’t listen to [Doe],” Farley told the jury.

On Thursday, Cox told the jury that von Ehlinger, an Army veteran, injured his back in a helicopter crash during his service, and thus could not have lifted Doe and carried her as she described.

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Jurors also heard testimony from Doe’s mother, who said her daughter had been a volunteer at a domestic violence advocacy center before the alleged assault, as well as Anne Wardle, a nurse who administered a rape exam and said Doe was in tears as she recounted what happened. Wardle said Doe had a “goose egg” from her head hitting the wall of von Ehlinger’s bedroom as she struggled to get away.

On Wednesday, Doe took the stand for direct examination by prosecutors. She struggled visibly, staring at the defense table and glancing toward the exits as she spoke. Farley implored Doe to focus on her and her testimony, to which Doe said, “I can’t.”

As she began to describe what happened that night at von Ehlinger’s apartment, Doe stopped suddenly and said, “I can’t do this,” before walking out of the courtroom. She never came back.

This, said Shapiro, set up a “Sixth Amendment confrontation issue,” which would deny von Ehlinger his Constitutional right to confront his accuser.

“So her entire testimony is being stricken because the defense did not have a chance to cross-examine her,” Shapiro told The Daily Beast.

“What they do have is the testimony from the nurse who… was able to get in some of the accuser’s statements,” Shapiro explained, noting that Doe’s mother’s testimony also remains on the record. “So the jury gets to hear some of what the accuser said to her, but it is historically very difficult for a jury to return a verdict of guilty in any case, especially a sexual assault case, if they have zero testimony to consider from the accuser.”

In essence, Shapiro said, the case went “from a ‘He said, she said,’ but now there’s no longer a ‘She said,’ because her testimony was stricken. The defense was not that it didn’t happen—they found his DNA all over her body.”

The jury began deliberations on Thursday.

Von Ehlinger, who was appointed to the Idaho House of Representatives in June 2020 to finish out a dead lawmaker’s term, stepped down after serving for less than a year. If convicted of rape and forcible penetration by use of a foreign object, he faces a maximum sentence of life in prison. His attorney, Jon Cox, did not immediately respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment.

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