BOISE, Idaho (AP) — The trial for a former Idaho lawmaker accused of raping a 19-year-old legislative intern began Tuesday with a prosecutor telling jurors the case was about power imbalances and the defense saying the sex was consensual.
Aaron von Ehlinger was charged with rape and penetration with a foreign object, both felonies, last year after the young Statehouse staffer reported a sexual assault in March 2021.
“This case is about power — power wielded in the wrong hands,” Ada County Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Katelyn Farley told the jury.
“The defendant, Mr. von Ehlinger, wielded that power against a 19-year-old intern,” Farley said, telling jurors that they would hear several ways in which the intern tried to resist the lawmaker’s advances.
Von Ehlinger’s attorney, John Cox, told jurors that the intern and his client had passionate consensual sexual contact. He said the intern stayed at von Ehlinger’s apartment for a time after the sexual contact.
“They talked for a while, and then he drove her back to her car two-and-a-half blocks away,” Cox said.
The allegations first came to light during the 2021 legislative session after the intern told a Statehouse supervisor that von Ehlinger raped her at his apartment after the two had dinner at a Boise restaurant. At the time, von Ehlinger was a state representative from Lewiston, but he later resigned after an ethics committee unanimously agreed that he engaged in “behavior unbecoming” and recommended that he be suspended without pay for the rest of the legislative session.
Von Ehlinger, 38, has pleaded not guilty to the charges, which carry maximum penalties of life in prison.
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.
Earlier Tuesday, the attorneys questioned potential jurors about whether they had seen news coverage about the case, their political leanings and their feelings about romantic relationships between people who are far apart in age.
A few potential jurors were excused after they said they had seen news coverage about the rape allegations and the ethics investigations the case spawned. Jane Doe faced significant harassment from some of von Ehlinger’s supporters after news of the allegations surfaced, with some blog sites releasing her real name and personal details about her life.
Another lawmaker, Rep. Priscilla Giddings of Whitebird, then widely disseminated the former intern’s name in newsletters and on social media, sharing one of the blogs that originally identified her.
Another juror was excused after he said he didn’t know how anyone could remain a member of the Republican Party.
The jury of 12 people and one alternate was seated around noon.
This story has been corrected to show the trial began Tuesday, not Monday.