Ex-legislator convicted of rape denied a new trial, sentencing set for Aug. 31
By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
The ex-legislator convicted of raping a legislative intern in 2021 will not be granted a new trial and is scheduled for sentencing next week.
Jurors convicted Aaron von Ehlinger, 40, of felony rape in April, but his attorney argued Thursday that the court should change his conviction to an acquittal or grant him a new trial.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Michael Reardon disagreed with the arguments and said he would not second-guess the jury.
“I cannot say the jury did not have sufficient evidence on which to base its verdict,” Reardon said.
Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, argues his client’s constitutional rights were violated and the victim’s accusations have changed. He focused on his client’s right to confront the accuser, known as Jane Doe.
Idaho Reports does not disclose the names of sexual assault victims.
Cox said he received information while the jury was deliberating from a former coworker of Jane Doe’s that wasn’t presented in trial.
The defense issued a subpoena for Brandy Bentzinger on Aug. 16. She appeared in court Thursday, telling the court she worked for a maid service and knew Jane Doe.
Bentzinger’s testimony would have served as impeachment evidence of Jane Doe, meaning evidence that Jane Doe was not being truthful or that she had ulterior motives. It was not evidence that could have proved von Ehlinger’s innocence.
Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Farley objected to the witness, saying she did not believe Cox had met the required burden a defense needs to meet to demand a new trial or acquittal.
Ultimately, Bentzinger was only briefly on the stand.
Cox wrote in his Aug. 3 memorandum that the sexual assault nurse examiner who testified in trial did not say von Ehlinger’s penis was in the victim’s mouth and therefore the interaction did not meet the definition of rape. He argued the state also offered the nurse two leading questions on the subject.
But Farley said that argument only applied to direct testimony. In later testimony during trial, it was repeatedly stated that von Ehlinger forcefully or without consent put his penis in the woman’s mouth.
Reardon said on at least five occasions during trial, witnesses testified that oral penetration took place. Additionally, Reardon noted the injury sustained by Jane Doe in the case served as evidence.
He was referring to the lump or “goose egg” on the back of Jane Doe’s head that the nurse said she sustained when attempting to pull her head away from von Ehlinger, hitting her head.
The judge and the state also disagreed with Cox’s argument that his client’s constitutional rights were violated. The right to confront an accuser only applies to accusations made by a person during trial, not charges brought by the state.
Von Ehlinger remained silent in court, a rosary hanging around neck.
Sentencing is set for 3:30 p.m. Aug. 31. A rape conviction could be punishable by up to life in prison.
Von Ehlinger remains in custody at the Ada County Jail. The accusations initially came to light when reported by the 19-year-old legislative intern in 2021. Von Ehlinger, of Juliaetta, resigned from the legislature in 2021 after facing a public House ethics hearing over the woman’s allegations. He maintained all interactions with the woman were consensual. His resignation came hours after the ethics committee voted to recommend his immediate censure and suspension from the House of Representatives.