Attorney Jon Cox, left, speaks with former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger as court is recessed after sentencing at the Ada County Courthouse on Aug. 25. (Sarah Miller/Idaho Statesman)
Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger will serve at least eight years in prison for the felony crime of rape, with another 12 years or the possibility of parole, for a total of 20 years in prison, Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon ruled Wednesday.
Von Ehlinger will also be required to register as a sex offender upon the time of his release, and a court order not to contact the victim in the case will remain in place until Aug. 30, 2055. He will also receive credit for 139 days he has already served in Ada County Jail, and is ordered to pay court costs and $2,015 in restitution.
The sentencing comes four months after a jury found von Ehlinger guilty. The jury found von Ehlinger not guilty of the second charge of oral penetration. According to statute, Reardon had discretion to impose between one year and life in prison for the crime of rape.
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 in early March 2021, 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 prosecuting attorneys asked for a 40-year sentence for von Ehlinger with 15 years fixed and the remaining time either in prison or on parole. Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley said von Ehlinger had a low probability of rehabilitation. That determination is based on the pre-sentencing investigation that was conducted by a doctor to determine von Ehlinger’s risk of reoffending.
Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, asked for a lighter sentence with retained jurisdiction, meaning von Ehlinger would complete a rehabilitation program and Reardon could reassess his sentence afterward. Reardon did not grant the request to retain jurisdiction.
Cox motioned for a new trial earlier this month based on what Cox said were constitutional violations during the April trial as well as new evidence. Reardon denied that motion on Aug. 25, saying the evidence was not compelling and he did not think any constitutional violations occurred.
What’s Aaron von Ehlinger’s history in the Idaho Legislature?
Von Ehlinger represented Lewiston in the Legislature for less than one year, after Gov. Brad Little appointed him 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.
Ada County prosecutors played recording of victim impact statement from Jane Doe
Ada County Prosecuting Attorney’s Office spokeswoman Emily Lowe said Doe did not want to make any statements after the sentencing, and she only briefly appeared during the trial before fleeing the stand.
But Doe did record a victim impact statement that prosecutors played during the sentencing. In the recording, she said she already had post-traumatic stress from events that happened during her childhood, and what she experienced that night has put her in a constant state of hypervigilance.
“How can I recount the terror my body was going through that evening?” Doe said. “Have you ever tasted blood from biting the inside of your lips because you couldn’t say ‘no’ loud enough? Have you ever felt buried alive in your own flesh, that your screams stay trapped on the tip of your tongue?”
Doe said she will never forget the strength and force of von Ehlinger’s grip as he squeezed her head and forced her to perform oral sex. She said she worried he would become violent if she resisted beyond saying, “I don’t want to.”
She also said she does not feel safe in her own home, and that she was petrified to speak even on a recording.
“But I will not be intimidated into complacent silence so that another rapist can slip through the cracks of this justice system,” she said.
Judge Reardon to von Ehlinger: I am persuaded you used your power to your advantage
Von Ehlinger gave his own statement before Reardon made his decision and discussed the misdemeanor violations on his record that were pardoned by the state of Idaho one month before the rape occurred. Von Ehlinger said he asked for the pardons because he was committed to living a law-abiding life, and that the rape conviction did not change that commitment.
Von Ehlinger also talked at length about his military service, and said he served honorably as a soldier in Afghanistan, where “the only thing between Afghani women and the Middle Ages was the American soldier.”
He asked for Reardon’s mercy and leniency but said whatever treatment the judge ordered, he would treat it with the same seriousness as he would in the military.
Reardon said throughout the prosecution of the case, including during the trial, statements von Ehlinger made during the pre-sentence investigation and his statements in court on Wednesday, he noted von Ehlinger’s “demonstrated lack of empathy for the victim” and propensity to blame the victim.
“As I listened to you today, I wrote down two words: ‘victim’ and ‘hero.’ That you see yourself as a victim, and you see yourself as a hero. And frankly, I don’t see you as either one of those things,” Reardon said. “You created your own circumstances that put you here today.”
Reardon said there were also vast differences between von Ehlinger and Doe, including differences in age, physical stature and cultural power, given von Ehlinger’s position as an elected official.
“I’m persuaded that you used those things and manipulated them to your advantage in the completion of this crime,” Reardon said.
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