WILBER, Neb. — Defense attorneys saw little point in having a jury decide whether Aubrey Trail should be eligible for the death penalty after they took less than three hours to convict him of murder.
So on Thursday, Trail waived his right to have a jury decide whether the killing of Sydney Loofe, 24, involved aggravating circumstances that could qualify the case for a death sentence.
“It may have been wasted effort” to argue aggravating circumstances before that group, said Ben Murray, one of two court-appointed attorneys defending Trail.
The waiver leaves Trail’s fate to be decided by a three-judge panel to be appointed by Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice Michael Heavican.
One of the three judges will be Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson, who presided over the murder trial.
The jury in the case was sequestered overnight at a motel after finding Trail guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder Wednesday in the slaying and dismemberment of Loofe, a Lincoln store clerk.
The jury’s focus on Thursday was to be whether aggravating circumstances — such as the heinous nature of the crime — existed that qualify the case for capital punishment.
But Trail, 52, told the court Thursday that he was waiving his right to have a jury make that decision.
He spoke only briefly to answer questions from Johnson.
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.
Trail opted to waive that right after seeing how quickly the group of six men and six women reached a guilty verdict in the case, Murray said.
The panel of judges will now decide on aggravating as well as mitigating factors. A hearing on those factors will likely not occur for months, he said.
Loofe’s family members were in court Thursday, as they have been throughout the trial. They appeared relieved to have gotten through this phase of the proceedings. Her father, George Loofe, said he would like to comment but would hold off for now.
“We’re a long ways from done,” he said.
Prosecutors on Thursday removed one alleged aggravator — a claim that Trail had a history of serious assaults. That leaves the allegation that the killing was exceptionally heinous, but Murray questioned the state’s case. He said prosecutors are pointing to things that happened after Loofe was already dead.
“They’re saying it was an exceptionally heinous murder, but what they’re trying to use as evidence is it was an exceptionally heinous dismemberment,” he said.
The saga began, according to prosecutors, when Loofe met someone named “Audrey” on the dating app Tinder. That someone was actually Trail’s girlfriend, Bailey Boswell. Loofe and Boswell set up a date for Nov. 14, 2017, during which they drove around Lincoln and smoked pot.
The next night, they had a second date. But Loofe, a native of Neligh, Nebraska, never came home, and prosecutors maintained that she was a victim of a conspiracy by Trail and Boswell to lure a young woman via social media for torture and death.
There was no sign of Loofe until Dec. 4, 2017. Her remains were found over two days, in 13 pieces wrapped in black plastic bags, along little-traveled gravel roads about an hour west of Wilber.
Defense attorney Joe Murray, Ben’s father, said that Trail accepted the verdict and that he expected that he would be accepting of a death sentence as well, given his serious health problems. Since his arrest, Trail has had a stroke and two heart attacks. He was brought to court in a wheelchair, although he can get around using a walker, Ben Murray said.
“His entire goal has been making clear Bailey (Boswell) had nothing to do with it,” he said. “I think he’s less concerned about himself than he is about her.”
That appeared to be the case when, early in the trial, Trail suddenly shouted out and began slashing at the right side of his neck with a small blade.
“Bailey is innocent, and I curse you all!” he yelled.
Boswell, 25, is also charged with first-degree murder, as well as improper disposal of human remains. She is scheduled to face trial in October, though her attorney has said he is seeking to move the trial out of Saline County because of the heavy publicity of the case. Trail pleaded guilty to improper disposal of human remains before his trial began.
Ben Murray said Trail cut himself with a piece of a razor blade that had been wrapped in an adhesive bandage and stuck in his collar. The Murrays declined to cast blame for allowing Trail access to the blade.
Both attorneys called the throat slashing a pivotal point in the trial and one that jurors would have had a hard time forgetting, even though the judge instructed them to disregard his action.
A 22-year-old juror named Chris, who declined to give his last name, said the cutting was the most memorable and shocking part of the trial. But he said he was able to set that aside when the jury started deliberating.
He said the group was “pretty much on the same page” in reaching a verdict.
He said he was convinced by the amount of evidence and put no stock in Trail’s changing version of events. He said Trail appeared to take the situation as a game, rather than trying to cooperate with law enforcement in solving Loofe’s death.
“I don’t think he has much credibility,” Chris said.
Other jurors left without speaking to reporters, including one man who declined to talk but said he was glad to have the trial over.
Before adjourning the trial and leaving the courtroom, Johnson thanked jurors for their service. She said she would thank each of them individually in the jury room.
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