Deputy prosecuting attorney Katelyn Farley confers with a colleague during a break in testimony on the second day of the rape trial of former Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger on April 27, 2022, at the Ada County Courthouse in Boise. (Brian Myrick/Idaho Press)
When Jane Doe took the stand Wednesday afternoon at the Ada County Courthouse to testify to her accusation that former Lewiston Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger raped her in early March last year, the courtroom was silent and tense.
She looked left and right, slowly moving her eyes to von Ehlinger, who sat on the left side of the courtroom.
When Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley started asking Doe questions about her employment as an intern at the Idaho House of Representatives last year, when she was 19 years old, she paused for long periods before giving quiet, clipped answers.
The Idaho Capital Sun does not identify alleged victims of rape or sexual assault and refers to the former intern as Jane Doe.
Not more than a few minutes into her testimony, defense attorney Jon Cox told District Judge Michael Reardon that he couldn’t hear Doe. Reardon asked her to move closer to the microphone.
Doe continued, and Cox again said he couldn’t hear her. She stared at him, appearing agitated by the interruptions, but answered as Farley asked her about the night the alleged assault took place.
“Focus on me,” Farley said, but Doe’s eyes didn’t leave the defense table as she confirmed she went to dinner with von Ehlinger, 39, but couldn’t remember where.
He drove them back to his apartment, she said, where she was eating Oreo cookies on the couch when she said he picked her up and took her to his bedroom and laid her down on the bed while he undressed to his boxers and a white T-shirt.
She said von Ehlinger tried to put his fingers between her legs, and she closed her knees — then paused, pushed her chair back from the witness stand, and looked over to Reardon to say, “I can’t do this.”
Doe stood up and walked down from the stand, said, “You’re welcome,” to the jury of seven men and six women, then walked out of the courtroom.
It was the second day of the trial for von Ehlinger, who is charged with rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object, both felonies. Von Ehlinger has maintained he is innocent, and that the sexual activity was consensual.
After a recess, Farley said the prosecution did not expect to be able to bring Doe back to the stand. Based on that fact, Reardon instructed the jury to disregard the testimony Doe did give and not consider it as part of the case.
Trauma can have different effects on victims, witness says
Shortly after Doe’s appearance, Farley called Laura King as an expert witness in victimization and sexual violence. King is a criminal justice professor at Boise State University who has published research on sexual assault victims and its psychological effects. King said she teaches her students that sexual violence is the most underreported violent crime because victims are often embarrassed or believe the incident was their fault, they fear they won’t be believed and they don’t want to relive what happened multiple times.
When an assault occurs, King said a victim can develop post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety and low self-esteem coupled with memory loss, but said there’s no specific way a victim should or does react.
“When a trauma occurs, a variety of hormones are released, and those can really affect how people behave,” King said. “To someone who doesn’t understand trauma, it may seem very strange how people act.”
The prosecution then rested its case. Cox said the defense was not prepared to present its case that afternoon, and Reardon dismissed the jury for the day around 2 p.m.
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Alleged victim’s mother: ‘I suggested she turn that person in’
The prosecution also called Doe’s mother to the witness stand earlier in the day. The Idaho Capital Sun is choosing not to name her so Doe isn’t identifiable.
She said she and her daughter have always been close, and that she used to be an independent, confident woman. Doe’s mother said Doe called her around 6:30 a.m. the morning after the alleged assault and whispered about what she said happened.
“It made me very concerned because that’s not how she would talk on the phone to me,” she said. “I suggested she turn that person in and report it to whoever she needed to.”
The state then called Kimberly Blackburn, the assistant sergeant-at-arms for the Idaho House of Representatives, to the witness stand. Blackburn supervised Doe when she was a legislative page in 2020, she said, and Doe told her about the incident on March 11, two days after it occurred. Blackburn said she immediately told Speaker of the House Scott Bedke, R-Oakley, what she’d heard.
Von Ehlinger served in the Legislature for less than one year. He resigned following an ethics hearing in the House of Representatives in April after committee members recommended his suspension or expulsion for the alleged conduct.
Doe testified at von Ehlinger’s ethics hearing from behind three black curtains, and onlookers pursued her when she left the Statehouse. Another legislator, Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, was censured by the Idaho House for posting a link to a blog article with Doe’s real name and picture. Others have continued to post her name and picture on social media. She told the Idaho Press she can’t register anything in her own name because people know her name and could find her at her address.
The trial is scheduled to last five days, but it could wrap up on Thursday depending on the length of jury deliberations. If convicted, von Ehlinger faces between one year and life in prison and would have to register with the Idaho sex offender registry, according to Idaho Code.
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