No new trial for former Idaho legislator convicted of rape, judge rules

Former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger will be sentenced Aug. 31

By: - August 25, 2022 5:06 pm
Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger is led back to jail

Former Idaho state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger exits the courtroom after Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon denied the motion to retry or acquit him. (Sarah Miller/Idaho Statesman)

Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger will not be acquitted or granted a new trial, Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon ruled Thursday, and he will be sentenced for his rape conviction next week.

Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, submitted a motion in Ada County Court in early August asking Reardon to acquit his client based on a lack of evidence, and in lieu of acquittal, he asked for a new trial to consider new evidence that was submitted as a sealed affidavit. Cox also argued von Ehlinger’s constitutional rights under the Sixth Amendment were violated because he did not have the opportunity to cross-examine or confront his accuser.

A jury found von Ehlinger guilty of rape, a felony, in April after a four-day trial. A 19-year-old legislative intern, who is referred to as Jane Doe to protect her identity, said von Ehlinger, then 39, took her to dinner, then 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 jury found von Ehlinger not guilty of the second charge of oral penetration.

At a hearing on Thursday, Cox called witness Brandy Bentzinger to the stand, who said she worked with Doe at a cleaning service agency in 2021. Bentzinger submitted an affidavit alleging she spoke with Doe about the case while they worked together. Cox said in the affidavit, Doe gave conflicting statements to Bentzinger about the night in question.

What’s von Ehlinger’s history?

Aaron von Ehlinger represented Lewiston 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. The ethics committee recommended his suspension or expulsion for the alleged conduct.

Von Ehlinger had a history of misdemeanor violations on his record that were pardoned by the state of Idaho prior to the rape accusation and conviction.

Before Bentzinger could go into more detail, Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Whitney Welsh objected and asked to question the witness.

Reardon granted the request, and Welsh asked if Bentzinger told a detective that Doe had said she did not want sexual contact with von Ehlinger and that she had turned her head away when he attempted to initiate oral sex. Bentzinger said yes. 

Welsh then objected to further questioning, saying Bentzinger did not have any information material to the case, and Reardon agreed to dismiss her.

Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger
Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston (Official Idaho Legislature website image)

In his explanation of the ruling, Reardon said after reviewing the affidavit, he wasn’t sure if it was more harmful to Doe or von Ehlinger.  

“The substance of that affidavit reads to me as potentially as impeaching to Mr. von Ehlinger’s testimony as it is to (Doe’s) testimony,” Reardon said.

He added that there was not a compelling reason to determine the jury inappropriately considered testimony from the sexual assault nurse who examined Doe, in part because there was physical evidence to bolster the testimony.

“The jury had all of the evidence that it needed to come to a decision on that, and they were free to believe or disbelieve the defendant or the statements that were contained in … the report, and they chose to believe the statements,” Reardon said.

On the question of Sixth Amendment rights to confront an accuser, Reardon said he understands the concern of not having the accuser testify in court, but there are many cases where the injured party does not or cannot give testimony, including murder.

“I’m not inclined to second guess the jury’s decision,” Reardon concluded.

Von Ehlinger’s sentencing is scheduled to take place at 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. He faces between one year and life in prison.

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Kelcie Moseley-Morris
Kelcie Moseley-Morris

Kelcie Moseley-Morris is an award-winning journalist who has covered many topics across Idaho since 2011. She has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Idaho and a master’s degree in public administration from Boise State University. Moseley-Morris started her journalism career at the Moscow-Pullman Daily News, followed by the Lewiston Tribune and the Idaho Press.

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