Former Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for rape
Former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger — who was convicted of rape in April — told an Ada County courtroom Wednesday that he took a pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Israel before standing trial over two felony sexual assault charges.
He said that in order to be baptized, he had to confess his sins.
But while he confessed to a lot of sins, he said in court, rape wasn’t one of them.
Von Ehlinger continued to maintain his innocence after a jury found him guilty of the 2021 rape of a legislative intern. Fourth District Judge Michael Reardon on Wednesday sentenced the former Lewiston lawmaker to a total of 20 years in prison, with at least eight fixed, meaning he won’t be eligible for parole until 2030.
Reardon noted that von Ehlinger tried to make himself out to be both a “victim” and a “hero.”
“Frankly, I don’t see you as either one of those things,” Reardon told him.
The former intern, 19 at the time of the sexual assault, said he forced her to perform oral sex at his Boise apartment after they had dinner in March 2021.
The woman was kept anonymous throughout the trial and was referred to only as J.V. in court records. In a recorded statement played to the court Wednesday, J.V. said she felt ashamed throughout the criminal justice process, but hoped coming forward would help other survivors of sex crimes.
“I hope (that) me coming forward can help forge a path for any future Jane or John Does here in Idaho,” J.V. said. “And to conclude, I hope he rots in pieces behind those cold metal bars.”
Under Idaho law, the maximum sentence von Ehlinger could have received was life in prison. Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Margueritte Farley asked for at least 15 years fixed in prison for the former Republican lawmaker, with another 25 years to be spent in prison, on parole or both. Von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, argued for three years fixed and seven years indeterminate.
“That night is a night that J.V. should never have to go through,” Farley said. “The defendant doesn’t believe he has done anything wrong.”
Von Ehlinger could spend up to 12 years on parole, or could spend some of that time in prison as well. He was also ordered to pay a civil penalty of $5,000 and $2,015 in restitution.
Reardon noted that 26 people submitted letters on behalf of von Ehlinger. In von Ehlinger’s statement to the court, he said that even his former wife submitted a letter.
“They say that I’m a good man, they had no problems,” von Ehlinger said, “that I was a good influence on their sons.”
Von Ehlinger was originally supposed to be sentenced in July. That was postponed due to a motion submitted by Cox to retry the case or get an acquittal. Reardon denied the motion.
Reardon said in court last week that in a case like von Ehlinger’s, in which the jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that the defendant was guilty, he’s not “inclined to try and second-guess that jury’s decision.”
“I want to thank Jane Doe for the courage she has demonstrated in this case,” Ada County Prosecutor Jan Bennetts said in a statement. “I appreciate the tireless work done by the Boise Police detectives on this case, which allowed my team to ensure justice was served.”
Emily Lowe, a spokesperson for the office, told the Idaho Statesman by text that the prosecutor’s office would not be providing additional comments.
Farley says von Ehlinger made other women ‘extremely uncomfortable’
During Farley’s argument, she said that von Ehlinger made at least three other women “extremely uncomfortable” during his few months as a lawmaker. He resigned from his Idaho House seat last year after an ethics panel looked into his behavior for “conduct unbecoming” and recommended expelling him.
House Caucus Chair Megan Blanksma, R-Hammett, told the ethics committee last year that a lobbyist had told her von Ehlinger followed the woman into a bathroom. A married clerk told then-Idaho House chief clerk Carrie Maulin that von Ehlinger asked her on a date, which made her uncomfortable. A security guard also testified during the ethic hearings that she had a sexual encounter with von Ehlinger.
“It should be noted that each of these women — including J.V. — that the defendant pursued at the state Capitol were individuals that had a significant power differential between them and the defendant,” Farley said. “One was a security guard. One was a journal clerk. One was a lobbyist. And one was an intern.”
Farley also said during her statements that von Ehlinger was not remorseful for his actions, he refused to acknowledge any kind of wrongdoing and he continued to attack J.V.’s character.
The prosecutor noted that while the letters turned in on von Ehlinger’s behalf made him out to be a hardworking, kind man of faith who “would never make a woman uncomfortable,” he was not that type of person.
“That is not the person that made multiple women so uncomfortable at the Statehouse that they reported him to their supervisors,” Farley said. “That is not the person that several legislators had to speak with him about his conduct ... and that is not the person that took a 19-year-old back to his bedroom, where he forcibly raped her.”
Cox said that the prosecution painted von Ehlinger as a “deviant monster” and that his client was not jumping out of bushes and attacking women.
There were 776 reported cases of rape in Idaho in 2021, and in roughly 75% of those cases, the alleged attacker was someone the survivor knows, according to data from the Crime in Idaho report.
“This is not the picture of a monster,” Cox said. “It’s the picture of a man, again, who provided military service to our country, who became a member of a state house of representatives.”
Cox also argued that J.V.’s audio-recorded statement shouldn’t have been played in court because he didn’t hear it beforehand. Reardon disagreed.
Boise State University criminal justice professor Lisa Growette Bostaph previously told the Statesman that recounting a sexual assault is retraumatizing for survivors. J.V. tried to testify in von Ehlinger’s trial but left the stand after just a few moments, and her testimony was stricken from the record.
“You have to discuss something incredibly traumatic and incredibly personal, in front of strangers — when you likely didn’t even want to tell your parents,” Bostaph said. “There isn’t enough preparation to predict whether or not a victim is going to be able to overcome that unnatural environment to provide a recounting of an extraordinarily traumatic event.”
Sexual assault cases are also less likely to lead to a conviction than other crimes. Of those 776 rape cases in 2021, only 12 percent led to an arrest, the Crime in Idaho report showed.
Two out of three sexual assault cases never get reported to police, according to the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network, or RAINN.
“Have you ever tasted the 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?” J.V. said during her statement that was played in court. “March 9, 2021, was the night he created these feelings inside of me. The defendant felt so entitled to my body that he took it upon himself to use me as a means to gratify his deviant sexual desires.”