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Alleged victim walks out of courtroom in von Ehlinger rape trial

Aaron von Ehlinger ethics trial
James Dawson
/
Boise State Public Radio
Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger (R-Juliaetta) during the first day of an ethics hearing into allegations he raped a volunteer staff member in 2021. He's currently standing trial for those alleged crimes.

“I can’t do this,” Jane Doe said abruptly as she began describing the beginning of her alleged rape by former Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger Tuesday afternoon.

Dressed in a gray jacket, black pants and brown top with a cross necklace, Doe stood up, walked away from the witness stand, waved toward the jury and said, “You’re welcome,” before forcefully opening the exit door.

She had only testified for a few minutes.

Boise State Public Radio does not identify alleged victims of sexual assault and is using the pseudonym Jane Doe to refer to her.

Before leaving the courtroom, Doe’s eyes often wandered around the courtroom, sometimes taking a few seconds to answer yes or no questions. She quietly replied with one-word sentences.

Doe, at times, stared at von Ehlinger across the courtroom. Prosecutor Katelyn Farley told Doe several times to focus on her instead.

Revisiting that night in March 2021, Doe said she didn’t remember where they went to dinner in Boise, but she said von Ehlinger had picked her up in front of the state capitol building.

“After dinner, where did you go?” Farley asked.

“His apartment,” Doe said, after a long pause.

There, she said she ate Oreo cookies on top of faux fur while von Ehlinger was out of the room.

Doe said he then scooped her into his arms and took her to his bedroom.

She alleged he laid her down, removed his clothes and climbed on top of her. That’s when Doe said von Ehlinger tried to put his fingers between her legs, though she said she closed her knees.

After she walked out of the courtroom, 4th District Court Judge Michael Reardon told the jury they could not use any of that information during deliberations because von Ehlinger's attorney wasn't able to cross-examine her, as is his Sixth Amendment right.

“As it stands now, you must strike it from your minds,” Reardon said.

Prosecutors later said Doe was no longer at the Ada County Courthouse and was “in no state where we can ask she return today.” They later rested their case.

“I’ve never seen that before,” said Jon Cox, von Ehlinger’s attorney, after the jury had left the room.

Von Ehlinger has pleaded not guilty to felony rape and sexual assault charges. He could face up to life in prison if convicted.

In statements made to police and those presented during a legislative ethics hearing in April 2021, Doe said von Ehlinger eventually forced her into oral sex.

“I said no,” she told lawmakers at the ethics hearing last year when asked if she told him to stop. Doe said she also told him things like she wasn’t on birth control or that it had been a while since she last shaved.

“Things to make me seem unappeasable [sic], you know,” she said at the time. “And he just continued.”

Jurors did not hear that account Tuesday.

After a brief recess, prosecutors called their final witness to testify: Boise State criminal justice Professor Laura King.

While she hadn’t reviewed the facts of the case, King spoke about how it’s not unusual for victims of sexual assault to exhibit behavior that might seem “strange” to others.

That includes having dissociative episodes where they might hyper focus on a spot in a room while discussing their assault or fail to be present in the moment.

Hormones released during a traumatic event or when a victim relives the experience, King said, can impair rational thinking, dull a person’s response or result in temporary paralysis.

Those effects can also impair someone’s memory and last for hours or possibly days afterwards, she said.

Earlier in the day, Jane Doe’s mother testified that her daughter called her early the morning following the alleged rape.

It wasn’t common to hear from Doe at that time of day, her mother said.

Doe’s demeanor was “very quiet, like she was scared,” almost like she was whispering, she said.

Prior to the alleged rape, Doe’s mother described her as “very independent, strong … confident – or was.”

Two Boise Police Department detectives also testified to interviewing the alleged victim and working on the case, as did Kimberly Blackburn, the assistant sergeant-at-arms for the Idaho House of Representatives.

Blackburn said Doe came to her early on the morning of March 11, 2021, saying she needed to talk to her in private.

Speaking quietly and fidgeting, according to Blackburn, Doe described the encounter with von Ehlinger the previous night, saying she was afraid.

Blackburn said at one point Doe abruptly got up, saying she had to go while holding her hand over her mouth.

In her statement to police last year, Blackburn later said Doe told her she had vomited in the bathroom after their conversation.

Cox, von Ehlinger’s lawyer, said he hadn’t decided whether his client would testify Wednesday, but if he did, he would be the only witness.

That means jury deliberations could begin as early as Wednesday morning.

Follow James Dawson on Twitter @RadioDawson for more local news.

Copyright 2022 Boise State Public Radio

I cover politics and a bit of everything else for Boise State Public Radio. Outside of public meetings, you can find me fly fishing, making cool things out of leather or watching the Seattle Mariners' latest rebuilding season. If you have a tip, please get in touch!