BOISE – A woman who reported she was raped by an Idaho lawmaker while serving as a legislative intern testified in the former lawmaker’s trial on Wednesday, haltingly describing the moments the assault began before abruptly leaving the witness stand.
“I can’t do this,” the woman said, quickly walking out of the courtroom.
The Associated Press generally does not identify people who say they have been sexually assaulted, and has referred to the woman in this case as “Jane Doe” at her request.
Doe was a 19-year-old intern when she told her supervisors that then-Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, a Republican from Lewiston, raped her at his Boise apartment after the two had dinner at a restaurant.
Von Ehlinger, 38, has pleaded not guilty to felony charges of rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object, and maintains the two had consensual sex. He resigned from the House of Representatives last year after a legislative ethics committee recommended he be banned from the Statehouse.
During testimony Wednesday afternoon, Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley asked Doe to describe an article of clothing worn by von Ehlinger that day, presumably to identify him to the jury.
“Blazer,” Doe said, appearing to have difficulty looking at the defendant. When Farley asked her to describe the color of von Ehlinger’s tie, Doe answered, “I can’t.”
Most of Doe’s answers were quiet and one or two words long, and she frequently looked toward the jury or the exit door in the back of the courtroom – anywhere but toward the rear half of the courtroom, where von Ehlinger, the defense and prosecuting attorneys, onlookers and the news media sat.
Von Ehlinger’s attorney, John Cox, repeatedly interjected that he couldn’t hear Doe, prompting the judge to repeatedly ask her to scoot closer to the microphone, and lean in.
“I need you to look at me,” Farley told Doe, again.
“I can’t,” she responded, looking again toward the exit door.
In response to Farley’s questions, Doe said she ate at a restaurant with von Ehlinger and that afterward he drove her to his apartment in his car. Inside, she sat down and had cookies. “Oreos,” she said.
Then, she said, von Ehlinger picked her up and carried her into his bedroom.
“He laid me down … he removed his clothes … he climbed on top of me … in just his boxers. White T-shirt,” Doe said. “He tried to put his fingers between my legs and I closed my knees.”
At that, she stood up.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said, fleeing the courtroom.
The judge gave the prosecuting attorneys 10 minutes to find her and see if she would return. When she did not, Reardon told the jurors they had to “strike (Doe’s) testimony from your minds as if it never happened,” because the defense could not cross-examine her.
It was the second day of the trial. On Tuesday, jurors heard from the nurse who completed a rape examination on Doe roughly 48 hours after she said the assault occurred. The nurse testified that Doe told her that she tried to stop von Ehlinger’s sexual advances by saying she hadn’t shaved, that she wasn’t on birth control and that she was menstruating. Doe also told her that von Ehlinger had placed the handgun he always carried on a dresser near the bed, and that he pinned Doe during the assault by climbing on top of her and kneeling on her upper arms.
Jurors also heard from forensic scientists who said that DNA from bodily fluids collected during Doe’s rape exam matched von Ehlinger.
After Doe left the courtroom, the prosecutor called Laura King, an associate criminal justice professor from Boise State University who is an expert in sexual violence victimization.
King told jurors victims of a sexual assault often fight, flee or freeze during the assault, and the hormones that trigger those responses can cause a person to experience temporary paralysis or dissociation, a mental state that feels disconnected from reality.
Those same physiological responses including dissociation can also happen when sexual assault survivors describe the assault, King said.
Cox asked King whether she knew anything about von Ehlinger’s case. King said she did not.
“You talk specifically about these conditions – fight, flight, freeze, dissociative events, tonic immobility – but you have no idea because you don’t have any information about this case specifically, right?” Cox asked King.
King agreed, saying she was talking generally about the research on sexual assault victims.
After King’s testimony, Farley said the prosecution’s case was over.
Cox said he would let the judge know on Thursday morning if von Ehlinger will testify in his own defense.
If convicted, von Ehlinger could face a maximum penalty of life in prison on each charge.
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