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Aaron von Ehlinger, convicted of rape, says court violated right to confront accuser

Aug. 4, 2022 Updated Fri., Aug. 5, 2022 at 9:41 p.m.

Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, listens during a hearing April 28, 2021, at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise.  (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman)
Idaho Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, R-Lewiston, listens during a hearing April 28, 2021, at the Idaho Statehouse in Boise. (Darin Oswald/Idaho Statesman)
By Alex Brizee Idaho Statesman The Idaho Statesman

Editor’s note: This story contains graphic details of a sexual assault.

A new memorandum filed by former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger, who was convicted of rape, is alleging that the court violated his Sixth Amendment right because he couldn’t cross-examine or confront his accuser, and that an Ada County prosecutor asked leading questions during his trial.

The 14-page memorandum provided a more in-depth outline of the arguments von Ehlinger’s attorney, Jon Cox, presented for why von Ehlinger deserves a retrial or acquittal. The motion also said new evidence has been discovered since the jury trial.

Von Ehlinger was found guilty of raping a legislative intern by a 12-person jury in April. The former intern, 19 at the time of the sexual assault, said he forced her to perform oral sex at his apartment after they had dinner. The woman was kept anonymous throughout the trial and was referred to only as J.V. in court records.

Cox also called the nurse who performed J.V.’s sexual assault exam an unreliable witness and alleged that new evidence obtained by the defense created a discrepancy around the details of her testimony.

“The state in this case chose to proceed with its case in chief by not calling J.V. to the stand and instead to rely on the hearsay testimony of J.V. through a single witness who had no personal knowledge of the events and instead relied on a recitation of events after the fact,” Cox wrote in the memorandum, which the Idaho Statesman obtained. “In that scenario, the jury had no ability to determine the credibility of the accuser or the veracity of version of events.”

Cox also said that during the four-day trial, Ada County Deputy Prosecutor Katelyn Margueritte Farley asked Anne Wardle, the nurse who performed the sexual assault exam on the intern, leading questions during Wardle’s testimony. A leading question is when an individual asks a question that suggests the answer.

Cox argued that Wardle only testified that von Ehlinger “forced his penis” in J.V.’s mouth after Farley allegedly led the witness. Wardle initially testified that von Ehlinger grabbed the back of J.V.’s head and “pulled her head down towards his penis.”

Cox also filed an affidavit by an individual only identified as B.B. Cox alleged that the affidavit proves J.V. made various claims to B.B. about the sexual assault that were “conflicting with the version of events” Wardle provided in her testimony. The affidavit was sealed and inaccessible to the public.

The Ada County Prosecutor’s Office declined to comment on the memorandum.

‘I can’t do this’: J.V. cuts testimony short

J.V. was not subpoenaed by the state to testify. She chose to testify in court for a few minutes before she left abruptly. Her testimony was tossed out, and the jurors were not allowed to use it in their deliberations.

In the moments leading up to J.V.’s exit, she began to recount the rape. J.V. said von Ehlinger placed his fingers between her legs, and that she closed her legs at the time. She walked out of the courtroom, saying, “I can’t do this.”

The jury was instructed by 4th District Judge Michael Reardon to omit J.V.’s testimony since Cox wasn’t able to cross-examine her.

In the motion this week, Cox argued that since J.V.’s brief testimony couldn’t be used, von Ehlinger’s Sixth Amendment right to confront her was violated.

Testifying traumatizing for sexual assault survivors

In Idaho, victims of a crime have the right to privacy during court proceedings. Idaho’s victim rights amendment states that they can refuse an interview “or other request by the defendant, or any other person acting on behalf of the defendant, unless such request is authorized by law.”

Boise State University criminal justice professor Lisa Growette Bostaph previously told the Statesman that recounting a sexual assault experience is re-traumatizing for survivors.

“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.”

Cox said in the motion that while some may say J.V. “was traumatized by the proceedings,” others could argue her reaction was because she had to confront von Ehlinger and was “faced with the reality her story may be challenged.”

Von Ehlinger was expected to be sentenced on July 28, but Reardon ruled to delay his sentencing until his motion to have a retrial or be acquitted is resolved. A hearing has been set for 3 p.m. on Aug. 25 to discuss the motion, and Reardon plans to make a decision on von Ehlinger’s motion that day.

Von Ehlinger was a former Lewiston legislator and resigned from his Idaho House seat over the allegation last year.

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