WILBER, Neb. — After hearing three weeks of sometimes-grisly testimony and viewing nearly 500 pieces of evidence, a jury took less than three hours on Wednesday to render a verdict in Aubrey Trail’s murder trial.
Guilty — of both first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the slaying and dismemberment of Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe.
Trail, a 52-year-old ex-convict, stared ahead as the verdicts were read. A second, short trial to determine whether the first-degree murder count qualifies for the death penalty will begin here Thursday morning.
A woman sitting with the Loofe family buried her head in her husband’s chest and cried as the twin guilty verdicts were read. Loofe’s mother and sister both wiped tears as they walked out of the ornate, wood-paneled courtroom.
Loofe’s father, George Loofe, said earlier that his family would have no comment because they still face a second trial in her death, that of Trail’s girlfriend, Bailey Boswell.
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 about the case.
Trail pleaded guilty to improper disposal of human remains just before the start of the trial.
It will go down as one of the most sensational, and sad, murder cases in state history, involving talk of witchcraft, killing someone to “gain powers” and the death and dismemberment of a young woman seeking a friend over the Internet.
Loofe, who was described as struggling with depression, money troubles and a job that she didn’t like at a Lincoln Menards store, had gone on the Internet dating app Tinder. There she met someone named “Audrey,” who was actually Boswell, and set up a date for Nov. 14, 2017, during which the two drove around Lincoln and smoked pot.
The next night, they arranged 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, despite extensive searches by the FBI and state and local law enforcement. Her remains were found over two days, in 13 pieces, wrapped in black plastic bags, tossed like “trash,” prosecutors said, along little-traveled gravel roads about an hour west of Wilber.
“The two of them were planning, scheming and lusting after, desiring a murder for months. That’s what we have here,” said one of the prosecutors, Mike Guinan of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, in his closing arguments.
Guinan and other prosecutors, as well as Trail’s court-appointed attorneys, declined comment following the verdict, which came with surprising speed.
The jury of six men and six women was given the case at 3:53 p.m., and had to pick a foreman before beginning their deliberations. Jurors also were delivered supper before informing Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson at 6:33 p.m. that they had reached a verdict.
Sign up for The World-Herald's afternoon updates
Receive a summary of the day’s popular and trending stories from Omaha.com.
“It was absolutely right,” said Bobbi Greenwood of Wilber, as she sat with a group at Wilber’s Foxhole Tavern.
“May he rot in hell,” said other members of the group as they toasted the guilty verdicts.
Few people in Wilber knew of Trail and Boswell or their activities, according to Greenwood, before they were named as “persons of interest” shortly after Loofe was reported missing on Nov. 16, 2017.
“He spilled out a story about witchcraft and then gave a whole new story (when he testified),” she said. “They had to know he was full of it.”
Trail and Boswell took to Facebook to proclaim their innocence before they were apprehended at a motel in Branson, Missouri, on Nov. 30, 2017.
That began a long string of interviews of Trail by investigators. The story told by Trail, who has spent time in prison for both forgery and passing bad checks, evolved over time, from not being involved, to taking responsibility for Loofe’s death, though maintaining that it was an accident during the filming of a sexual fantasy involving choking and two unidentified women.
But on Tuesday Trail took the stand, just over two weeks after apparently attempting suicide by slashing his neck in front of the jury. Over three hours, Trail told a new story: That there was no sexual fantasy, no other women, just him and Boswell, engaging in consensual “rough sex” with Loofe that involved choking that went too far. He alone, he said, should be held responsible, because Boswell was just having sex.
Guinan, during his closing arguments, urged jurors to use their common sense and reject Trail’s ever-changing “stories” of what happened. He is a “con man,” the prosecutor said, who kept changing his story when provided new evidence by investigators.
“This clearly was not a sexual fantasy gone wrong, but a premeditated murder gone right,” Guinan told jurors. “This was a case about a planned abduction to kill.”
Three women who had lived and traveled with Trail and Boswell before the pair met Loofe testified that there was frequent talk of killing, either as a witchcraft ritual, to right a wrong, or just for sexual gratification.
But one of Trail’s court-appointed attorneys told jurors that the talk about witchcraft and killing were pure “fantasy” and was linked to a Stephen King horror book, “Doctor Sleep,” that references witches breathing the “last breath” of someone.
Joe Murray, the defense attorney, told jurors that the state had failed to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Loofe’s murder was premeditated. He said what happened better fit the definition of involuntary manslaughter — a much lower crime of accidental murder that doesn’t come with the possibility of the death penalty.
Murray said that an expert on dismemberment had ruled out a hack saw purchased by Trail and Boswell before Loofe’s death as the saw used to dismember the body. Yet prosecutors, he said, insisted that it was the tool.
“You can’t make stuff up,” Murray said. “They’re doing the same thing they’re accusing Aubrey Trail of doing — making stuff up.”
Later, Guinan argued that the expert had found that a thin-bladed saw with 24 teeth per inch was used to saw up the body — the same number of teeth on the hack saw purchased by Trail and Boswell on Nov. 15, hours before Boswell and Loofe’s second date. The saw was never found, and the prosecutor suggested that it was disposed of because it was used in the dismemberment.
Guinan displayed a slide show, with one segment titled “the Perfect Crime Solved,” to the jury to refresh the jury’s memory of the long list of witnesses and evidence.
He said that when Loofe agreed to meet Boswell for a second date, it was the “poignant moment” in the case.
“At that moment, when Sydney Loofe stepped into (Boswell’s) car, her fate was sealed … she was dead,” Guinan said.
He said Loofe was most likely “pounced upon” and killed and dismembered almost immediately by Trail and Boswell after she arrived at their basement apartment in Wilber at about 8 p.m. on Nov. 15.
But Murray disputed that. He said forensic experts testified that there was a lack of blood because the body was dismembered several hours or days after Loofe was killed.
He also said that Trail’s lack of planning about what to do with the body illustrated that there was no “plan” to kill Loofe.
Trail and Boswell, according to testimony during the trial, meandered across the Midlands after disposing of the body, traveling to Council Bluffs, then Grand Island and Kearney, then to Iowa, and eventually to Branson, Missouri, where they were apprehended.
“Does common sense tell you there was a plan? Of course it doesn’t,” he said. “No plan. No premeditation. There’s reasonable doubt.”
After rendering their guilty verdicts, the jury was sequestered overnight at a motel prior to the short trial on Thursday. It will focus on whether aggravating circumstances — such as the heinous nature of a crime — would qualify the case for the death sentence.
If the jury finds that Trail qualifies, three judges would be appointed to hold another hearing on whether any mitigating factors exist to outweigh the aggravators. The judges would then sentence Trail to death or life in prison, the only two options for first-degree murder.