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Courts
Pathologist testifies that Sydney Loofe's body showed signs of struggle, use of restraints

WILBER, Neb. — Jurors saw and heard on Monday the grisly details of how Sydney Loofe’s body was cut into pieces as the first-degree murder trial of Aubrey Trail entered its fourth week.

Loofe’s body was cut into 14 pieces, likely by two or three different instruments, according to separate testimony by two forensic experts. Her body showed signs that she struggled at the time of her death, one said.

Dr. Michelle Elieff, a forensic pathologist from Omaha, said that her examination of Loofe’s body revealed signs that she had been restrained at her wrists, had a torn earlobe and was bruised at the back of her head and inner thigh.

But could those signs of struggle also have been consistent with “rough, consensual sex”? asked one of Trail’s court-appointed attorneys, Joe Murray.

“Yes,” Elieff responded.

Trail tells FBI agents how Sydney Loofe was killed, what happened afterward in video shown to jurors

Aubrey Trail told FBI agents that Sydney Loofe’s body was deposited in Clay County, Nebraska, because a cemetery there was “ a special place,” and that the body parts were placed in a certain way along the road ditches to speed her “incarnation.” He also said he had drained Loofe’s body of its blood, and deposited the blood and her “soul” in a place that law enforcement had not located.

Later on Monday, a forensic anthropologist from Mississippi, Steven Symes, told jurors that a saw, a knife and a scissors-like tool were used to dismember the body.

Symes also said the dismemberment was unusual in the number of “false starts” with a saw before bones were cut. He said his analysis showed that a handsaw, a thin-bladed hacksaw, was used and that it had “close” to 24 teeth per inch.

That matches the teeth count on a saw purchased by Trail and his girlfriend, Bailey Boswell, in the hours just before Boswell met Loofe for a date arranged via the Internet dating app Tinder.

Testimony in the trial is expected to continue through Tuesday.

Trail, 52, and Boswell, 25, are charged with first-degree murder in the slaying of Loofe, a 24-year-old cashier at Menards in Lincoln.

Boswell, according to prior testimony, connected with Loofe via Tinder for a date on Nov. 15, 2017. Loofe was reported missing the next day.

Trail and Boswell, who is also charged with first-degree murder, both face the possibility of the death penalty if found guilty. Boswell is scheduled to stand trial in October.

Elieff said her autopsy occurred on Dec. 7, 2017, a couple of days after Loofe’s remains were found scattered along gravel roads in rural Clay County, just north of Edgar.

Photographs Elieff took of the dismembered body were shown to jurors, but not to the audience, as big-screen TVs aimed at the gallery were shut off on Monday. A couple of jurors looked away after glancing at the photos on their screen. Many had grim facial expressions as Elieff explained the bruising and scratches she found on Loofe’s body, which lacked most of its internal organs.

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Loofe’s mother and sister left the courtroom when the autopsy and dismemberment testimony was presented. Her father, though, remained in the front row for most of it, though he sometimes bowed his head when testimony turned grim.

Trail again chose not to attend the court proceedings, as he has since slashing his neck in front of jurors on June 24. It was not clear whether he would testify in his own defense on Tuesday, when his attorneys will present their evidence.

Trail’s defense attorneys are not contesting that he cut up the body — Trail pleaded guilty to a charge of improper disposal of human remains just before the trial’s start. But they lodged a standing objection to the showing of the photographs.

The pathologist said that her examination concluded that Loofe died of suffocation, but she said she could not conclude whether it happened manually (by the use of someone’s hands) or via the use of a belt or other ligature.

Most of Loofe’s internal organs were missing, Elieff said, and there was little blood left in the body.

Is the lack of blood consistent with someone draining the blood from the body? asked one of the prosecutors, Sandra Allen of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office.

Elieff said the lack of blood could be caused by a lot of factors.

Under questioning by Murray, the doctor also said it could not be determined whether the lack of internal organs was the result of animals biting into the body parts after they were deposited along the road or the result of the organs having been intentionally removed. Both the pathologist and Symes said there were numerous signs of animal predation on the body parts.

Murray also asked if the autopsy could determine whether Loofe was killed intentionally or accidentally.

No, that could not be determined, Elieff said.

Symes, who said he specializes in cases of body dismemberment, examined Loofe’s remains on Dec. 13, 2017.

He used a model of a skeleton at times Monday to show jurors how Loofe’s body was cut up. He said it appeared, from the characteristics of the cuts, that a knife was used to remove flesh and then a saw was used to cut through the bones, with several false-start cuts. A scissors-like tool, like tinsnips, was used on the rib area, he said.

Symes, under questioning by Trail’s attorney, said he could not tell whether the dismemberment was done by one person or more than one person, or if a brand-new saw blade was used.

Trail has maintained that Loofe died accidentally, as he choked her during the filming of a sexual fantasy in which she willingly agreed to play a role in exchange for $5,000.

But prosecutors tell a much darker tale — that Trail conspired, along with Boswell, for weeks to lure a young woman using social media for the purpose of homicide.

Prior testimony, from three women who hung out and traveled with Trail and Boswell, said the duo claimed to have a harem of a dozen “witches” who joined them in group sex and stealing antiques. They said Trail and Boswell told them that to truly become a witch, they had to kill someone.

Earlier Monday, FBI agent Mike Maseth testified that Boswell had texted another woman whom she met via Tinder on Nov. 16, 2017, that “she would be busy for the next couple of days.”

Maseth said the text was sent about the same time that Boswell and Trail were purchasing tools — including a heavy-duty hacksaw with 24 teeth per inch and a pair of tinsnips — at a Lincoln Home Depot store.

Such a hacksaw was not found with the body or in searches of the apartment or vehicles used by Trail and Boswell. But jurors were shown an identical saw, purchased by law enforcement later, again on Monday.

Notable crime news of 2019

Weather
If you like hot and humid weather, Omaha, wait a few days

It’s July in Nebraska, so you expect it to be hot. By the end of the week, forecasters say, the Omaha area will enter a long stretch of hot and humid conditions.

Beginning Friday and for 10 days afterward, daytime highs are expected to rise well into the 90s, and the heat most likely will be accompanied by high humidity levels.

A slightly shorter stretch of 90-degree days spilled over from late June into early July.

The humidity will make the stretch of temperatures in the 90s feel hotter than usual, said Ken Dewey, a regional climatologist and professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“Drier air means more evaporation, and evaporation makes you feel cooler,” Dewey said. “I think the lack of summer heat so far will also make it seem worse than it really is since we haven’t gotten used to it yet.”

The National Weather Service said that while extreme heat isn’t expected, the heat index, which measures both heat and humidity, could reach 100.

David Pearson, a hydrologist at the weather service office in Valley, said such conditions are expected as Omaha enters the hottest months of the year.

“This shouldn’t last the whole month,” Pearson said of the heat and humidity. “The temperature outlook is above normal, but there should be a break at some point.”

The weather service forecast for Omaha called for a 50% chance of showers and thunderstorms Tuesday morning, followed by some sunshine and a high of 89.

Sunny skies were expected for the rest of the week, with highs Wednesday and Thursday in the upper 80s. A high of 93 was forecast for Friday.


Articles
'A no-excuse option': Iowans can vote by phone in 2020 caucuses

DES MOINES (AP) — Democrats in the early presidential contest states of Iowa and Nevada will be able to cast their votes over the telephone instead of showing up at their states' traditional neighborhood caucus meetings in February, according to plans unveiled by the state parties.

The tele-caucus systems, the result of a mandate from the Democratic National Committee, are aimed at opening the local-level political gatherings to more people, especially evening shift-workers and people with disabilities, whom critics of the caucuses have long said are blocked from the process.

The changes are expected to boost voter participation across the board, presenting a new opportunity for the Democratic Party's 2020 candidates to drive up support in the crucial early voting states.

"This is a no-excuse option" for participation, said Shelby Wiltz, the Nevada Democrats' caucus director.

Party officials don't have an estimate of how many voters will take advantage of the call-in option. But in Iowa, some recent polls suggest that as many as 20% of Democrats will participate by phone. In Nevada, most voters tend to cast ballots early during regular elections, and party officials expect many will take advantage of the early presidential vote.

While rolling out a new voting system holds the promise of more voter participation, it also comes with potential risk for confusion or technical troubles. But the party is moving forward to try to address long-standing criticism that the caucuses are exclusionary and favor some candidates over others.

The Iowa caucuses, a series of party-run, local-level organizing meetings that adopted a presidential preference element more than 50 years ago, have come under increasing criticism in the past decade for their fixed evening time and place. Such rules effectively barred participation in the firstin-the-country nominating contest, for instance, for parents unable to find child care or older voters hesitant to venture out in the dead of winter.

Hillary Clinton and her supporters said Iowa's process "disenfranchised" those unable to attend after she finished a disappointing third place in the 2008 caucuses.

In 2016, backers of Sen. Bernie Sanders cried foul over the Iowa results when Clinton won a razor-thin margin, 49.9% to 49.6%, despite some irregularities in reporting results. The dispute, replicated in part in Nevada, was a key factor in the push from groups on the left to overhaul the nominating process heading into 2020.

Nevada, the third state in the Democrats' nominating contest sequence, has been an early caucus state only since 2008, and the process still remains relatively new to many residents.

By opting for a dial-in program, the systems can reach people in vast rural stretches of Iowa and Nevada, where broadband Internet coverage may be spotty. Iowa since 2014 has offered a smaller-scale tele-caucus, allowing outof-state members of the military and Iowans living abroad to call in to neighborhood caucus meetings and participate over the phone.

"One, we are a rural state. And let's be honest, outside of Las Vegas and Reno, Nevada is a rural state. Everyone is connected by phone," Iowa Democratic Party Chairman Troy Price said.

The DNC's mandate has been a challenge for party operatives who sought to maintain security while also maintaining the spirit of the caucuses, which are chiefly local party-building activities aimed at electing delegates to party conventions. Officials say that by avoiding an Internet-based program, they are reducing the risk of hacking, a key concern in an era of renewed concern about election tampering.

While Nevada Democrats said accessibility, not security, drove them to opt for a phone-in system, Iowa Democrats said they thought a lower-tech option was safer.

"With this system, it's easier than making sure thousands of computers across the state are not filled with malware and not being hacked," Price said.

Yet officials acknowledge that relying on phone systems does raise security concerns.

"Are they unhackable? Certainly not," said Jeremy Epstein, a voting systems expert with ACM, the largest international association of computer science professionals.

Both state parties plan to require Democratic voters to register online in advance of their virtual caucus, verifying their identity with a "multi-factor authentication." Voters will receive a PIN that they'll have to enter when they call in to participate.

Iowans who register on time will have six times to choose from to participate by phone, including the in-person caucus night, Feb. 3.


Articles
Feds access drivers' photos, often 'in the shadows with no consent'

WASHINGTON — Federal agents have turned state driver's license databases into a facial-recognition gold mine, scanning through hundreds of millions of Americans' photos without their knowledge or consent, newly released documents show.

Thousands of facial-recognition requests, internal documents and emails over the past five years, obtained through public-records requests by Georgetown University researchers and provided to the Washington Post, reveal that federal investigators have turned states' Department of Motor Vehicles databases into the bedrock of an unprecedented surveillance infrastructure.

Agents with the FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement are using these tools.

Police have long had access to fingerprints, DNA and other "biometric data" taken from criminal suspects. But the DMV records contain the photos of the majority of a state's residents, most of whom have never been charged with a crime.

Neither Congress nor state legislatures have authorized the development of such a system, and growing numbers of Democratic and Republican lawmakers are criticizing the technology as a dangerous, pervasive and error-prone surveillance tool.

"Law enforcement's access of state databases," particularly DMV databases, is "often done in the shadows with no consent," House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md., said in a statement.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the Oversight Committee's top Republican, seemed particularly incensed during a hearing into the technology last month at the use of driver's license photos in federal facial-recognition searches without the approval of state legislators or individual license holders.

"They've just given access to that to the FBI," he said. "No individual signed off on that when they renewed their driver's license, got their driver's licenses. They didn't sign any waiver saying, 'Oh, it's OK to turn my information, my photo, over to the FBI.' No elected officials voted for that to happen."

Despite those doubts, federal investigators have turned facial recognition into a routine investigative tool.

Since 2011, the FBI has logged more than 390,000 facial-recognition searches of federal and local databases, including state DMV databases, the Government Accountability Office said last month, and the records show that federal investigators have forged daily working relationships with DMV officials. In Utah, FBI and ICE agents logged more than 1,000 facial-recognition searches from 2015 through 2017, the records show. Names and other details are hidden, though dozens of the searches are marked as having returned a "possible match."

San Francisco and Somerville, Massachusetts, have banned their police and public agencies from using facial-recognition software, citing concerns about governmental overreach and a breach of public trust, and the subject is being hotly debated in Washington.

On Wednesday, officials with the Transportation Security Administration, Customs and Border Protection and the Secret Service are expected to testify at a hearing of the House Committee on Homeland Security about their agencies' use of the technology.

The records show that the technology already is tightly woven into the fabric of modern law enforcement. They detailed the regular use of facial recognition to track down suspects in low-level crimes, including cashing a stolen check and petty theft. And searches are often executed with nothing more formal than an email from a federal agent to a local contact, the records show.

"It's really a surveillance-first, ask-permission-later system," said Jake Laperruque, a senior counsel at the watchdog group Project on Government Oversight. "People think this is something coming way off in the future, but these (facial-recognition) searches are happening very frequently today. The FBI alone does 4,000 searches every month, and a lot of them go through state DMVs."

The records also underscore the conflicts between the laws of some states and the federal push to find and deport undocumented immigrants. Utah, Vermont and Washington allow undocumented immigrants to obtain full driver's licenses or more-limited permits known as driving privilege cards, and ICE agents have run facial-recognition searches on those DMV databases.

More than a dozen states allow undocumented immigrants to drive legally with full licenses or driving privilege cards.

Nebraska allows DACA participants — but not all undocumented immigrants — to get driver's licenses. DACA is the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which allows young immigrants living in the country illegally who were brought here as children to remain in the U.S.

"The state has told (undocumented immigrants), has encouraged them, to submit that information. To me, it's an insane breach of trust to then turn around and allow ICE access to that," said Clare Garvie, a senior associate in the Georgetown law school's Center on Privacy and Technology who led the research.

The search capability was offered not just to help identify criminal suspects, but also to detect possible witnesses, victims, bodies, and innocent bystanders and other people not charged with crimes.

An ICE spokesman declined to answer questions on the topic. The FBI referred the Post to the congressional testimony last month of Deputy Assistant Director Kimberly Del Greco, who said facial-recognition technology was critical "to preserve our nation's freedoms, ensure our liberties are protected, and preserve our security."