By Ruth Brown, Idaho Reports
An Idaho judge sentenced Wednesday the former legislator accused of raping a legislative intern in 2021 to 20 years in prison.
Fourth Judicial District Judge Michael Reardon sentenced Aaron von Ehlinger, 40, to eight years of fixed time in prison with another 12 years of indeterminate time. That means von Ehlinger must serve at least eight years before he could be eligible for parole.
“You see yourself as a victim and you see yourself as a hero,” Reardon told von Ehlinger, of Juliaetta. “And frankly, I don’t see you as either one. You created your own circumstances that brought you here today.”
In April, an Ada County jury convicted von Ehlinger of the 2021 rape involving the then-19-year-old legislative intern. The woman reported the assault after it occurred, leading to a House ethics investigation and ultimately his resignation from the House of Representatives.
The intern accused von Ehlinger of taking her back to his apartment and forcing himself on her without consent. Von Ehlinger repeatedly said all interactions were consensual.
Idaho Reports does not disclose the names of sexual assault victims. The victim in the case is identified as Jane Doe.
She was present in court and made a statement prior to sentencing outlining the rape and how the incidents that followed had impacted her life. The prosecutor played her statement through an audio recording.
Jane Doe said, via the recording, that while some victims feel empowered through making statements, “I have never felt more ashamed, belittled, powerless and dehumanized.”
She outlined her fear and terror as she endured the rape.
“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 lip 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?”
Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Farley outlined von Ehlinger’s other behaviors in the statehouse toward women, including at least three women who felt uncomfortable around him, two of whom reported it to their supervisors. Those details came out in a House Ethics Committee hearing while von Ehlinger was still a member.
Farley proceeded to outline how von Ehlinger showed no remorse and refused to acknowledge wrongdoing. The victim had political aspirations and the statehouse was once a building she hoped to see as a career.
But the defendant “turned the statehouse into a place where she was berated, taunted and further traumatized,” Farley said.
“He has no remorse for that damage and the pain that it has caused,” Farley said.
She argued that because von Ehlinger refused to take responsibility, he would not be a good candidate for treatment.
The state asked for a sentence of 40 years, with 15 years fixed.
Defense attorney Jon Cox argued that his client was not the monster the prosecution described him as. He argued the victim was an adult and was mature.
“He is not a deviant monster who is preying on unspuspecting immature girls,” Cox said.
Cox noted that his client was a veteran who served in Afghanistan and he should not be judged solely by what Cox called a “three-hour event.”
Von Ehlinger has been in custody since the April conviction, which Cox argued was a lot of time for someone who’s never served a lengthy jail sentence before.
“He has been deterred, judge,” Cox said. “There can’t be anything but deterrence when you are locked up in an 8 foot cell.”
Cox asked the judge to grant his client a retained jurisdiction rider program, with an underlying sentence of three to ten years in prison.
When von Ehlinger spoke, he stood and told the judge about his experience in the military, a pilgrimage to Israel and his plans to live a law-abiding life. He talked about a man in the jail cell next to him who could not read or write. Von Ehlinger told the judge he read the man passages from the Bible and tried to teach him to read.
He said his ex-girlfriends and ex-wife all supported him and can attest that he was a “good man.”
Von Ehlinger did not acknowledge guilt and he did not address the victim.
Reardon said he did receive 26 letters of support for von Ehlinger.
Farley noted in court that one came from Rep. Mike Kingsley, R-Lewiston, and one came from Rep. Vito Barbieri, R-Dalton Gardens. The letters are not part of the public court record, so not all 26 names were disclosed.
But, Reardon noted that most of the letters were people describing their personal experiences with von Ehlinger. They described him as kind, helpful and courteous.
“I am persuaded that there were vast differences between you and the victim in this case,” Reardon said, noting their age, his power, and their sizes. “You used those things and manipulated them to your advantage.”
Upon his release, von Ehlinger will be required to register as a sex offender.
Prior record and pardons
Some prior criminal convictions von Ehlinger had were pardoned by the state of Idaho by the Commission of Pardons and Parole, as first reported by Boise State Public Radio. Prior convictions included misdemeanor crimes ranging from drug possession to possessing a firearm while under the influence. The pardon does not erase his criminal record.
In July, Idaho Reports requested the number of pardons granted by Commission of Pardons and Parole in 2021 for context on how common it is in the state of Idaho. The answer: 42.
In 2021, the Commission received 60 pardon applications. Of those applications, 49 were reviewed by the Commission in executive session and 42 were given a hearing and granted.
All applicants must meet the criteria to be considered for a pardon, which some applicants cannot yet meet, such as paying restitution and court fees in-full and no longer being under supervision.
There is still a pending lawsuit in Ada County, filed last year by Jane Doe’s attorneys, against the Idaho Legislature.
Among other claims made are allegations of violations of the state’s Respectful Workplace Policy by the Idaho Legislative Branch.
“The legislature knew or should have known about a pattern of sexually inappropriate and/or gender-based behaviors perpetrated by elected officials on females working at the legislature/conducting legislative business at the legislature,” the lawsuit says. “The legislature, including members in leadership, knew that Von Ehlinger had engaged in inappropriate behavior with young women whom he worked with or had contact with via his work as an elected official.”
There are also claims of conspiracy by some legislators and retaliation claims. That civil case does not have a set court date.
The National Sexual Assault Hotline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-656-4673, or online at www.rainn.org. The service is free and confidential.