Boise, Idaho (Associated Press) – A woman who reported being raped by an Idaho legislator while serving as a legislative intern at the former legislator’s trial on Wednesday testified intermittently describing the moments when the assault began before suddenly leaving the witness stand.
“I can’t do that,” said the woman, as she quickly walked out of the courtroom.
The Associated Press does not generally 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 the then-Mp. Aaron von Illinger, a Republican from Lewiston, raped her in his Boise apartment after the two of them had dinner in a restaurant.
Von Illinger, 38, has pleaded not guilty to the charge of rape and sexual penetration with a foreign object, claiming they had consensual sex. He resigned from the House of Representatives last year after the Legislative Ethics Committee recommended that he be barred from the House.
During testimony Wednesday afternoon, Ada County District Attorney Catelyn Farley asked Doe to describe an article of clothing that von Illinger wore that day, likely to introduce him to a jury.
“Blazer,” said Doe, taking a long look around the room. When Farley asked her to describe the color of von Illinger’s tie, Doe replied, “I can’t.”
Most of Du’s answers consisted of a word or two, and she often looked to the jury or the exit door at the back of the courtroom. Other times, her gaze fell on the defense table as Von Ellinger sat with his attorney, John Cox.
Behind the lawyers, the courtroom lounge was full. Journalists, victims’ services representatives, and other onlookers sat side by side. One of the seats was reserved for a woman with a service dog – animals are sometimes used to provide a supporting presence for witnesses who are required to give difficult testimony.
Du’s voice was calm, and Cox interrupted her answers repeatedly to say he couldn’t hear her. This prompted the judge to repeatedly ask Doe to approach the microphone and bend over.
“I want you to look at me,” Farley said to Doe again.
“I can’t,” she replied, looking again toward the back exit door.
In response to Farley’s questions, Doe said she ate at a restaurant with von Illinger and then drove her to his apartment in his car. Inside, she sat and had cookies. “Aureus,” she said.
Then she said, von Elinger picked her up and carried her to his bedroom.
“He put me on the floor… He removed his clothes… He climbed on top of me… in boxers only. ‘White shirt’,” Doe said. “He tried to put his fingers between my legs and my knees closed.”
At that time, I stood up.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she said as she fled the courtroom.
The judge gave the prosecutors 10 minutes to find her and see if she would come back. When she didn’t, Reardon told the jurors they should “knock (Doe’s testimony) out of your mind as if it never happened” because the defense couldn’t cross-examine her.
This was the second day of the trial. On Tuesday, jurors heard police investigators and a nurse who completed a rape examination in Doe about 48 hours after she said the assault occurred. The nurse testified that Doe told her that she had tried to stop von Illinger’s sexual tendencies by saying that she had not shaved, that she was not on birth control and that she was menstruating. Doe also told her that von Illinger had put the revolver he always carried on a dresser near the bed, and that he had pinned Doe during the assault by climbing on top of her and kneeling in her arms.
Investigators and the nurse told jurors that Doe reported telling von Illinger “no” during the assault and said he was hurting her. The nurse said Doe reported pain in her arm during the examination, and that she had a swollen “goose egg” on the back of her head that she said occurred when she tried to shake her head away from her crotch, or hit a wall or headboard.
Jurors also heard from forensic scientists who said that DNA from body fluids collected during Doe’s rape test matches von Illinger.
After Doe left the courtroom, the attorney general called Laura King, an associate professor of criminal justice from Boise State University, an expert on sexual violence abuse.
King told jurors that victims of sexual assault often fight, flee, or freeze during the assault, and that the hormones that trigger these responses can also cause a person to experience temporary paralysis or dissociation, a mental state in which they feel disconnected from reality.
King said that these same physiological responses including disengagement can also occur when survivors of sexual assault describe the assault. Such behavior may seem strange, she said, but it is a normal reaction to an assault.
I asked Cox King if she knew anything about the von Ellinger case. The king said she didn’t.
“You’re talking specifically about these conditions—fight, flight, freeze, breakaway events, tonic stalemate—but you have no idea because you don’t have any information about this specific case, right?” asked Cox King.
King agreed, saying that she was generally speaking about seeking out victims of sexual assault.
After King’s testimony, Farley said the prosecution’s case was over.
Cox said he would tell the judge Thursday morning if von Illinger was to testify in his own defense.
If convicted, von Illinger could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment on each count.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of John Cox’s first name.