James Dawson, Idaho Capital Sun
This story is from Boise State Public Radio, published Sept. 16. The original version is located at this link.
Two Republican state lawmakers sent letters of support for one of their former colleagues convicted of raping a teenage legislative intern prior to his sentencing late last month.
Reps. Vito Barbieri (R-Dalton Gardens) and Mike Kingsley (R-Lewiston) wrote letters to Judge Michael Reardon on July 5 using their official legislative letterhead.
Boise State Public Radio obtained copies of these letters through a public records request.
In them, both men described former state Rep. Aaron von Ehlinger as “upstanding” and said they wanted to offer their perspectives on his “good character.”
“Aaron has shown himself an upstanding person, genuine in character and straight forward in thought,” wrote Barbieri. “I believe that this demeanor is genuine as he has always acted in accord with his spoken ideals.”
Barbieri, who said his legislative office was nearest von Ehlinger’s, said they spent many hours discussing “those things most important to single men, especially career, stability, courage and character, to name just a few.”
Kingsley, who was von Ehlinger’s seatmate in the Lewiston area, said the convicted rapist “proved to me his outstanding character, looking out for the people that he was to serve” at campaign events after he was appointed to his seat in 2020.
Both Barbieri and Kingsley told Judge Reardon they’d be willing to speak further to their perspectives.
Neither of the men responded to requests for comment from Boise State Public Radio. Both are unopposed in November’s general election.
A jury convicted von Ehlinger in April of raping a then-19-year-old legislative intern known as Jane Doe. Boise State Public Radio doesn’t identify victims of sexual assault.
The two met at the statehouse when von Ehlinger was 38. After several interactions, he asked her to dinner in March 2021. After the date, they returned to his apartment where he forced her to perform oral sex.
Jane Doe reported the rape to a House staffer the next day and, eventually, to Boise Police.
Von Ehlinger maintained his innocence throughout the process.
During his sentencing, he spoke about how his military training taught him to always protect women.
Prior to his trial, von Ehlinger said he visited Israel and Jordan, ultimately getting baptized in the Jordan River.
Before the priest would perform the ritual, he was required to confess his prior sins.
“I confessed a lot of sins, your honor. I’m not a perfect man,” said von Ehlinger. “But rape was not one of the sins that I could confess to.”
He resigned his seat shortly after a House ethics panel recommended he essentially be expelled through the remainder of his term.
Testimony during the ethics hearing revealed von Ehlinger had approached other women during his brief tenure at the Idaho Capitol, reportedly making them feel “uncomfortable.”
Barbieri also testified in support of von Ehlinger during the ethics hearing, as did several other far-right Republicans, like current state GOP chair Dorothy Moon.
“In all of my … contact with Rep. von Ehlinger, he has conducted himself as a gentleman,” Barbieri said in April 2021.
Von Ehlinger will serve at least eight years in prison, with a maximum sentence of 20 years. He could have faced a life sentence.
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