WILBER, Neb. — Aubrey Trail picked the most unsettling day in his murder trial to skip the court proceedings.
A day after Trail shouted and slashed himself in the neck with a small blade in front of a stunned courtroom, he opted to not attend on Tuesday.
The day focused on testimony about the use of cellphone and cell tower records by a Lincoln police investigator to pinpoint the search for Sydney Loofe along two lonely Clay County gravel roads, where her body was found on Dec. 4 and 5, 2017.
For the first time, jurors were shown sobering photographs of Loofe’s dismembered body, found wrapped inside black plastic trash bags along the roadways north of Edgar, a south-central Nebraska farm town.
Trail, a 52-year-old ex-convict, was nowhere to be seen, choosing instead to remain in jail. One of his court-appointed defense attorneys said he was “fine” after getting an undisclosed number of stitches at a local hospital, but said his future attendance would be decided “day to day.”
“It is what it is,” said Joe Murray, a Hebron defense lawyer.
Trail and his 25-year-old girlfriend, Bailey Boswell, both face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted of first-degree murder in the slaying and dismemberment of Loofe, a 24-year-old store clerk from Lincoln.
Testimony is expected to continue until at least July 3. Boswell’s trial is scheduled in October.
As testimony turned to the discovery of Loofe’s body on Tuesday, her family members, who had been sitting in the front row during the trial, moved to the back of the courtroom. Sydney’s mother and sister did not attend that portion of the testimony.
At least a couple of the jurors appeared disturbed after a prosecutor, Mike Guinan of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, showed a photo of the first body part found — Loofe’s upper arm, which had a distinctive tattoo — to the jurors, one by one. One female juror closed her eyes after glancing at the picture.
The courtroom was nearly half full on Tuesday, which was the largest turnout yet, as the trial’s second week continued.
In the morning, FBI investigators, a Lincoln police detective and a motel clerk from Ames, Iowa, traced the actions of Trail and Boswell in the days following the disappearance of Loofe. She vanished after arranging a Nov. 15 date with Boswell.
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Trail first swapped his 2007 Ford with a car owned by a woman whom investigators identified as one of three young women who had associated with Trail and Boswell.
The woman's identity, which was revealed in open court June 25, was ordered not to be published by Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson on July 2. Before the trial, Johnson had ordered that photographs and video not be broadcast of the woman, and two others, to protect their privacy.
In that May 22 order, the judge also added: “This does not restrict the media from otherwise reporting on their testimony." An earlier version of this story identified the woman. On July 2, however, the judge imposed the additional restrictions on naming the three.
Trail and Boswell then fled to Iowa, staying at motels in Spencer and Ames.
In Ames, motel clerk Jennie Bloom reported to a Lincoln police tip line on Nov. 29 that she had checked in Trail and Boswell three days earlier.
But the pair were nowhere to be found when an FBI team arrived. A search of their room turned up a duffel bag and a Walmart grocery bag, as well as maps of Iowa and the southwest Texas-Mexico border area. Also found in their luggage were four sex toys.
While prosecutors maintain that Trail conspired for weeks to lure a young woman using social media for the purpose of homicide, Trail’s attorneys, as well as Trail himself, say Loofe was accidentally choked to death, after willingly participating in the filming of a sexual fantasy with Trail and two other women.
Trail and Boswell were eventually tracked to a motel in Branson, Missouri, by investigators tracing the digital evidence linked to a Facebook video the pair posted on the night of Nov. 29 — a video in which they denied involvement in Loofe’s disappearance.
Trail and Boswell were taken into custody on Nov. 30 as “persons of interest” in the Loofe case.
But the search for Loofe’s body was going slowly at that point, until a Lincoln police investigator, Robert Hurley, obtained Verizon cellphone records on phones carried by Boswell and Trail.
Hurley used his experience as an Army communications specialist and as a police accident reconstructionist to begin developing the path of travels taken by Trail and Boswell on Nov. 16.
Using the cellphone data from Boswell’s two phones (Trail had a flip phone that connected only twice with cellphone towers that day), Hurley was able to plot their travels, projecting that they had driven 150 miles over more than three hours that day.
“They both took the same route,” Hurley said of the two phones, westward from Wilber and eventually to Clay County, about an hour’s drive away.
By charting the distance of the phones from a cell tower, the investigator said he was able to determine that they had “really, really slowed or it was stop and go” in several places in that rural county, and that they “could have disposed something.”
Eventually, on Dec. 4, he was able to tell a search team from the Nebraska State Patrol to begin looking at a rural intersection on Road S, a gravel road just north of Nebraska Highway 74.
A patrol investigator, Cory Townsend, said Clay County Sheriff Jeff Franklin, walking in a ditch, eventually called out after spotting a torn-up black plastic bag, “I think I have something.”
Said Townsend, “I saw what I knew from experience to be human remains and not that of an animal.”
FBI agent Eli McBride testified about two other bagged body parts found — the pelvic area and the upper legs — as well as a blood-stained plastic sheet and plastic gloves that were discovered.
Trail’s attorneys objected to every photo of body parts shown to the jury. They maintain that the photos will prejudice the jury against their client, who pleaded guilty to improper disposal of human remains just before the beginning of the trial on June 17.
McBride is expected to resume his testimony Wednesday about the 17 “scenes” along the gravel roads where evidence was marked.
The woman's identity, which was revealed in open court Monday, was ordered not to be published by Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson on Tuesday. Before the trial, Johnson had ordered that photographs and video not be broadcast of the woman, and two others, to protect their privacy.
In that May 22 order, the judge also added: “This does not restrict the media from otherwise reporting on their testimony." An earlier version of this story identified two of the women. On Tuesday, however, the judge imposed the additional restrictions on naming them.