Update: Ex-legislator’s criminal case moves forward after rape accusation

Former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger

By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports

Editor’s note: This story may be disturbing to some readers due to discussion of alleged sexual violence.

Ada County Magistrate Judge Kira Dale on Friday heard evidence in the case of the former Idaho legislator accused of sexually assaulting a legislative intern.

The judge moved his case forward to District Court.

Aaron von Ehlinger, 39, of Juliaetta, is charged on accusations of rape and forcible penetration with a foreign object, both felony charges. The alleged assault occurred on March 9, during the Legislative session. 

Von Ehlinger did not waive his preliminary hearing in the morning, so the court met again in the afternoon to hear evidence.

In a preliminary hearing, the assigned magistrate judge decides whether there is enough evidence to move the case forward to the district court for trial. The magistrate judge does not determine guilt.

Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Farley initially asked that the hearing be closed, but Dale declined the request.

The number of occupants in the courtroom was limited, due to coronavirus safety restrictions, so the court streamed the hearing online. 

The first witness called was Anne Wardle, a sexual assault nurse examiner, who examined the victim in question on March 11 at Faces of Hope Victim Center in Boise.

“I remember her being upset and tearful,” Wardle said.

Wardle is a registered nurse and explained she documents all injuries found on patients who say they have been abused. 

The victim Wardle examined had a lump, or “goose egg” on her head, because the victim claimed the perpetrator had grabbed her hair, pushing her head toward his penis, and at one point she tried to jerk back and hit her head on the headboard, Wardle said in court. 

According to the report Wardle wrote, the suspect sat on the victim’s chest and he forced his penis into her mouth. The victim claimed he pinned her arms with his knees and ejaculated on her stomach.

Wardle performed a sexual assault kit examination on the woman, which looks for injuries and swabs areas of the body that may have a suspect’s DNA on them. In this case, she swabbed the woman’s mouth, abdomen and vaginal area.

Later, Boise Police collected a DNA reference sample from von Ehlinger after speaking with him in April.  Prosecutors say the DNA sample matched the swab taken from the victim in the exam.

Boise Police Detective Monte Iverson testified about a letter he received from von Ehlinger’s former attorney, Edward Dindinger, on April 23. In the letter, through Dindinger, von Ehlinger acknowledged he had what he charcaterized as “oral sex” with the woman, Iverson said.

The alleged victim in the case, a 19-year-old woman, was not called to testify at the hearing. 

Idaho Reports does not publicly identify potential sexual assault victims.

The charges von Ehlinger faces revolve around accusations that he forced the woman into oral sex and that he inserted a finger into her vagina without consent.  

Defense attorney Jon Cox was visibly frustrated Friday, stating that preliminary hearings only require “probable cause,” which is the lowest standard of proof required. At trial, a conviction requires “proof beyond a reasonable doubt.” Cox said in court he anticipates the trial will go into much more detail. 

Von Ehlinger did not speak during the hearing. His next court date is set for Nov. 8. 

If convicted, rape could be punishable by up to life in prison. 

Legislative and civil actions

During a House ethics hearing in April, von Ehlinger claimed all interactions with the 19-year-old woman were consensual.

He also heard accusations of harassment from other women who worked in the capital. After the Ethics and House Policy Committee voted unanimously to recommend his censure and suspension, he resigned from the House of Representatives.

The damaging committee vote ended in harsh words from committee members, calling von Ehlinger’s actions disrespectful, unsafe, and shameful. He resigned just hours after the committee vote.

Last month, the woman involved — identified as Jane Doe — took the first step in civil litigation, filing a tort claim against the Idaho Legislature. 

She claimed, among other issues, the legislature acted with “reckless disregard and with deliberate indifference to the rights of women in general and Ms. Doe in particular.”

For those in need, the National Sexual Assault Hotline is free and available at 1-800-656-4673.

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