WILBER, Neb. — After a couple of starts and stops, the murder trial of Aubrey Trail was suspended Wednesday without a single witness taking the stand.
The presiding judge gave no explanation for the delay, and both prosecuting attorneys and those representing Trail said they could not comment on why testimony did not proceed, as scheduled, on Wednesday. That included any comment on whether the health of Trail, who has suffered two recent heart attacks and a stroke while imprisoned, was a factor.
But later in the day, one of the attorneys representing Trail was seen leaving the west campus of Bryan Medical Center, the Lincoln hospital where those being held in a state prison, like Trail, are taken for medical treatment.
Overall, it was a confusing day in the courtroom of Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson, who called off proceedings for the day at about 1:45 p.m. after convening court, and then dismissing jurors, three times earlier.
“We can’t go forward today,” Johnson told jurors, before telling them to return at 9 a.m. on Thursday.
The first witnesses in the expected three-week trial were scheduled to begin testifying at 9 a.m. on Wednesday, but after about an 80-minute delay in starting the trial, the judge called in the jury and told them to come back at 1 p.m.
Johnson did not disclose the exact nature of the morning delay, though she mentioned that the courthouse had problems with its elevator and its air conditioning.
Absent during the entire day was Trail, who is using a wheelchair after recent health problems. The courtroom at the Saline County Courthouse is on the third floor, and deputies have used the elevator to transport Trail in the past. But a repairman checked out the elevator at midmorning on Wednesday, and it was working. And the air conditioning in the courtroom was also operating.
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.
When the jury came back at 1 p.m., Judge Johnson said she had received two phone calls that one of the jurors was blogging information about the trial, which would violate her order that jurors not discuss the case with anyone else. There was also a report, from a State Supreme Court official, that the mother of one of the jurors had posted a comment about a story on a Lincoln television station’s website about the trial, mentioning that her daughter was a juror.
That caused a second delay as the judge questioned each juror, one by one, in her private chambers. Afterward, she sent them out of the courtroom, saying she was waiting for a phone call before deciding whether testimony would begin.
After the jury left, Johnson addressed those in the audience, which included about 10 reporters, saying she was concerned about the “atmosphere” created by media coverage of the high-profile trial and was contemplating whether she needed to take “some action,” including sequestering the jury and limiting media coverage of the trial.
Earlier, the judge had issued a ruling allowing expanded media coverage of the trial, which allows pool video and photographs to be shot, and reporters to tweet reports about the court proceedings.
One concern, Johnson said Wednesday, was that jurors and sequestered witnesses had to walk past a group of reporters and audio technicians gathered just outside the courtroom. That, the judge said, raised concerns that they could hear comments recorded in court.
After a very brief recess, jurors were ordered back to the courtroom and Johnson told them that the trial could not proceed on Wednesday. She offered no explanation.
Wednesday night, Johnson emailed an order to Nebraska media outlets reversing her earlier decision to allow expanded media coverage. The order bans further “live tweeting” of the trial and bars reporters from taking cellphones or laptop computers used for writing stories into the courtroom.
Johnson criticized some online comments by members of the public. She also cited concerns that the instant messages could jeopardize a fair trial for Trail and his girlfriend, Bailey Boswell.
Trail, 52, is charged with first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder in the 2017 slaying and dismemberment of Sydney Loofe, a 24-year-old store clerk from Lincoln.
Trail and Boswell lured Loofe to her death via the online dating app Tinder, according to prosecutors. Both Trail and Boswell face the possibility of the death penalty if convicted.
Trail’s attorneys, as well as Trail himself, dispute that the slaying was premeditated. They say that Loofe was a willing participant in the filming of a sexual fantasy with Trail and two other women and that she was accidentally choked to death.
Trail has said he didn’t think police would believe that an ex-con had killed someone accidentally, so he didn’t report Loofe’s death. During opening arguments, one of Trail’s attorneys, Joe Murray, said the body was cut up and bagged so it would fit in the trunk of Trail’s car.
Loofe’s body was found on Dec. 4, 2017 — about three weeks after she disappeared — in farm fields and ditches in Clay County, which is about an hour’s drive west of Wilber, where Trail and Boswell had rented an apartment.
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