WILBER, Nebraska — Lawyers began the laborious process Monday of picking a jury for the expected three-week trial of Aubrey Trail, who is accused of the slaying and dismemberment of a Lincoln store clerk in November 2017.
Just before the start of the jury selection process, Trail, a 52-year-old ex-convict, pleaded guilty to one of three charges he faced in the slaying of Sydney Loofe — improper disposal of human remains.
It was a strategic move by his defense team in the hopes of avoiding jurors’ being shown autopsy photos of Loofe, whose body, authorities say, was dismembered and deposited in plastic bags found three weeks after her disappearance. The body was found in farm fields near Edgar, Nebraska, which is about an hour’s drive west of Wilber, a Czech farming community where the slaying allegedly occurred.
Trail has pleaded not guilty to two other charges: first-degree murder, which carries the possibility of the death penalty, and conspiracy to commit murder.
Prosecutors alleged that Trail conspired for several months with his girlfriend, Bailey Boswell, to lure young women via the Internet for the purpose of homicide. Trail, meanwhile, has maintained that Loofe was killed accidentally and that Boswell was not present. Boswell, now 25, faces trial in October on charges of first-degree murder and improper disposal of human remains. She, too, faces the possibility of the death penalty if convicted on the murder charge.
The pool of potential jurors was initially 300. The number was so large because of the extensive publicity surrounding the case and the possibility of jurors knowing someone involved in the case.
A few of the 197 potential jurors called for the trial Monday said they’ve already made up their minds.
“I think he’s a piece of crap. He’s trying to get out of the death penalty and trying to get sympathy with his claims that he’s had two heart attacks and a stroke,” said one, a 50-year-old woman from Crete who agreed to speak only if identified by her first name, Laura.
Laura was among six potential jurors dismissed Monday morning after telling the lawyers and District Judge Vicky Johnson that she could not be impartial. Laura said she had followed the case closely in the news media and was appalled at what was done to Loofe.
“I think she was prey for them,” said Laura, who has a daughter who is 26, two years older than Loofe.
As Laura talked to a reporter, another potential juror who had just been dismissed walked up, crying. “I’m an emotional person,” she said.
Forty-five jurors, whose names were drawn out of a box like one used in bingo games, were initially called for questioning by the judge and the attorneys. All were identified by numbers instead of their names.
The jury selection was moved from the courthouse to the Wilber American Legion Hall to accommodate the large number of potential jurors. It is expected to continue into Tuesday before a jury of 12, and three alternates, is selected. Opening statements in the trial are anticipated on Wednesday morning.
Trail was wheeled Monday into the courtroom and Legion Hall in a wheelchair. He has suffered a stroke and two heart attacks since his arrest, and has been housed at a state prison in Lincoln, rather than the Saline County Jail, because the prison has nursing home-style beds for aged and infirm inmates. Saline County Sheriff Alan Moore declined to comment on where Trail will be housed for the trial.
Trail answered with a solid “I do” when asked by the judge if he understood the consequences of changing his plea from not guilty to guilty to the charge of improper disposal of human remains.
The charge he pleaded guilty to Monday morning is punishable by up to two years in prison. That is much less than the life in prison or death sentence he faces if convicted of first-degree murder. But his plea change Monday will shorten the murder trial and could mean that some grisly photos would not be shown to jurors who will be deciding whether Loofe’s slaying was premeditated or accidental.
Loofe, 24, disappeared on Nov. 16, 2017, after arranging a date via Tinder with Boswell. Trail and Boswell shared an apartment in Wilber and had participated in scams involving antiques and rare coins before they were arrested in connection with Loofe’s death.
Sign up for World-Herald news alerts
Be the first to know when news happens. Get the latest breaking headlines sent straight to your inbox.
The FBI joined the search for Loofe after she failed to show up for work at a Lincoln Menards store. Trail and Boswell were quickly identified as “persons of interest”; they posted a video on social media claiming their innocence.
Trail, in later phone calls with reporters, had claimed that he was responsible for killing Loofe, saying it was an accidental strangling during a sexual role-playing fantasy and not a premeditated slaying.
He has told The World-Herald that he deserves to die for what he did but that Boswell should not face the death penalty.
1 of 45
A former convict was charged with using a drone to attempt to drop marijuana into the Lincoln Correctional Center yard. Read more
A man walking home from work along the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge used a pocket knife to fight off two attackers, sending both to the hospital. Read more
An Omahan was scammed out of $4,800 after trying to buy College World Series tickets. Read more
The Montana man known as the “AK-47 Bandit” who robbed several banks in at least five states, including Nebraska, was sentenced to 35 years in federal prison. Read more
A mall security guard was arrested on suspicion of making terroristic threats after threatening to shoot at suspected shoplifters fleeing in a vehicle. Read more
Travis Fieldgrove, who had sex with a woman who was both his wife and his daughter, was sentenced to two years in prison. Read more
A 28-year-old Omaha man was accused of spanking a 2-year-old girl so hard that she suffered multiple internal injuries. Read more
A man walking in Lincoln was struck in the genitals by a bullet after he dropped a .22-caliber handgun and it discharged. Read more
An 18-year-old man who police say was driving a stolen car was fatally shot by a friend of the car’s owner in Council Bluffs. Read more
A Tecumseh, Nebraska, man shot two former co-workers after they forced their way into his home and tried to fight with him, according to the State Patrol. Read more
A North Carolina man was arrested by Lincoln police after they say he attempted to kidnap a 14-year-old girl and take her to live with him in Wisconsin. Read more
A Shelton woman was driving north on U.S. Highway 281 when a man who’d been kicked out of another vehicle forced his way into her van. The woman, frightened by the man, took her infant and left the vehicle. But the suspect didn’t get far because the key fob remained with the woman. Read more
A staff member at the Tecumseh State Prison was attacked when an inmate’s cell door was mistakenly opened. Read more
More than 200 dead cattle and another 200-plus in questionable condition were found on property in Fillmore County, Nebraska, investigators said. Read more
The SUV of an Omaha woman was repeatedly rammed from behind in a Taco Bell drive-thru lane by a man who later got into the woman’s vehicle and drove it into the concrete base around a light pole. Read more
A 17-year-old boy was taken into custody after he took an unloaded 9 mm handgun to school, La Vista police said. Read more
A woman was injured after being put in the trunk of a car that fled police and crashed, police said. The woman had been reported abducted. Read more
A trip to Arby’s for lunch turned into a dangerous road-rage incident in Elkhorn when a driver got out of his car with a handgun and shot the tire on another man’s pickup truck. Read more
A 33-year-old man accused of leading Omaha police officers on a high-speed chase across the city had tried to run over officers, a prosecutor said, before the chase ended at The World-Herald building. Read more
A teenager was sentenced after luring a man for sex and fatally wounding him during a robbery. Read more
DNA helped lead police to man charged in a Guaca Maya slaying. Read more
A former U.S. Air Force counterintelligence specialist who defected to Iran has been charged with revealing classified information to the government in Tehran, including the code name and secret mission of a Pentagon program, prosecutors said. Read more
A masked man shot a clerk inside the Bucky’s convenience store at 30th and Dodge Streets about 3 a.m. She was taken to the Nebraska Medical Center with an injury that wasn’t considered life-threatening. Read more
A 25-year-old man suffered a gunshot wound after he went to confront a 50-year-old man at his home. Read more
An Iowa woman has been charged with five felonies after authorities alleged that she stole $3,535 worth of pull-tab lottery tickets while she worked at a convenience store. Read more
A 33-year-old man accused of cutting his girlfriend with a sword was covered in blood when police arrived at a house in Lincoln. Read more
A parolee is back in jail after punching a man who was a Tinder date for his girlfriend’s friend, according to a court affidavit. Read more
A grenade found in a dumpster in southeast Nebraska was disposed of by Nebraska State Patrol troopers. Read more
A Lincoln man upset that his wife and a friend were talking too loudly as he was trying to get to sleep walked downstairs and pointed a gun at his wife, police said. Read more
DNA evidence led police to issue an arrest warrant in an unsolved 2013 slaying of a Ralston woman. Read more
An Omaha man was arrested after an investigation indicated he had allowed two adult pit bulls to starve to death. Read more
A standoff with Omaha police ended after a man fell off an SUV, where he had been standing and shouting. Read more
Law officers from multiple agencies converged in rural Nebraska on Monday after a man exchanged gunfire twice with officers and escaped from a traffic stop by stealing a sheriff’s vehicle. Read more
An Iowa woman who went to prison for sex with 17-year-old ward of the state said she feels shame and remorse. Read more
The former pharmacy director for Children’s Hospital & Medical Center accused of embezzling more than $4.6 million from the hospital pleaded guilty to wire fraud Monday in U.S. District Court. Read more
A 22-year-old man reportedly drove drunk to the parking lot of the Lancaster County Jail, where his vehicle was spotted weaving and driving over an island. His blood-alcohol content was .172, Lincoln police said. Read more
An injured, naked woman was found outdoors in midtown Omaha on Monday and taken to the Nebraska Medical Center, said Officer Phil Anson, a police spokesman. Read more
A woman has filed a police report accusing Steve LeClair, an Omaha firefighter and the president of the firefighters union, of assaulting her in November. Read more
A Nebraska woman who has been charged with incest told a police officer that she wanted to have sex with her father because of a competition with her half sister to see who could do it first. Read more
Omahan 'rings' in the new year in prison for theft of $629,000 wedding ring. Read more
A club basketball coach who promised weekends of tournaments, personalized jerseys and cookie dough for fundraising took parents’ money and didn’t deliver, authorities say. Read more
Omaha ended 2018 on a high note not seen for decades — no one was criminally slain in Omaha in the final three months of the year. Read more