WILBER — Jurors took less than three hours Wednesday to find Aubrey Trail guilty of first-degree murder in the 2017 slaying and dismemberment of Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe.
The verdict by the jury of six men and six women culminated a nearly four-week trial that featured sensational testimony about discussions of witchcraft and of torture and killing.
Trail, a 52-year-old ex-convict, was also found guilty of conspiring to commit murder. A second trial to determine whether Trail’s crime qualifies for the death penalty is scheduled to begin on Thursday.
The jury was presented the case at 3:53 p.m. on Wednesday. Reporters clustered around the Saline County courtroom were notified at 6:33 that jurors had reached a verdict.
Trail and his 25-year-old girlfriend, Bailey Boswell, were both charged with first-degree murder in the death and dismemberment of Loofe. She had disappeared on Nov. 16, 2017, after arranging a date with Boswell via the Internet app Tinder.
Prosecutors introduced nearly 500 exhibits, including extensive cellphone records and texts sent via Tinder by Boswell, in building their case that Trail and Boswell had conspired to kill a young woman after luring them via social media.
“The two of them were planning, scheming and lusting after, desiring a murder for months,” he said. “That’s what we have here,” prosecutor Mike Guinan told jurors in closing arguments.
One of Trail’s court-appointed attorneys, meanwhile, told jurors that the state had failed to prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Loofe’s death was premeditated.
Joe Murray, a defense attorney from Hebron, said that testimony and evidence presented during the trial didn’t provide the necessary proof that Loofe’s death was intentional — and not accidental, as claimed by Trail — and that a hack saw purchased by Trail and Boswell before Loofe’s death was used to dismember the body.
Instead of first-degree murder, he said the facts reflect that it was unintentional, voluntary manslaughter — a lesser offense, not punishable by the death penalty.
“You can’t make stuff up,” Murray said. “They’re doing the same thing they’re accusing Aubrey Trail of doing — making stuff up.”
Trail and Boswell, a former basketball standout from Leon, Iowa, are both accused of first-degree murder. Authorities say that Boswell first met Loofe via Tinder, and that Loofe disappeared after a date with Boswell on Nov. 15, 2017.
Her body was eventually found scattered along two gravel roads, in 13 pieces in black plastic bags, on Dec. 4-5.
In his closing statement, Guinan, of the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, told jurors that the slaying was “clearly not a sexual fantasy gone wrong,” as Trail had claimed, “but a premeditated murder gone right.”
“This was a case about a planned abduction to kill,” Guinan said.
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 that a Loofe was likely “pounced upon” and killed almost immediately by Trail and Boswell after she arrived at their basement apartment in Wilber about 8 p.m. on Nov. 15.
But Murray, one of Trail’s defense attorneys, said that Trail’s lack of planning about what to do with the body showed 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 on Nov. 30, 2017.
“Does common sense tell you there was a plan? Of course it doesn’t,” he said. “No plan. No premeditation. There’s reasonable doubt.”
He said that discussion of witchcraft and a desire to breathe “the last breath” of someone were fantasies, concocted by the young women who hung around Trail and Boswell and mirrored events described in a Stephen King horror novel called “Doctor Sleep.”
“Stephen King, a prolific writer, but it was all made up,” Murray said.
The defense attorney also pointed to images of bondage and choking during sex that were found in an iCloud search of Loofe’s phone, suggesting that she willingly had engaged in a rough sex session with Trail and Boswell.
“You don’t like him and I don’t like him, but he’s still presumed innocent,” Murray said.
But Guinan, in his rebuttal, said there was no proof that the couple of images of bondage and choking were sent to Loofe’s phone with her consent or that she’d ever shared the images with others. He asked jurors to use their “common sense” to determine whether Loofe, who was portrayed as “timid” sexually, would willingly engage in “erotic asphyxiation” with people she hardly knew and just met.
“He’s a con man,” Guinan said of Trial. “He learns a fact and (his story) changes.”
Murray said that state’s “theory” that Loofe was choked with an electrical cord and that a hack saw was used to dismember the body was not backed up by forensic experts during the trial.
Guinan, meanwhile, said the examination of the bones indicated they were sawed with a hack-saw like blade that had 24 teeth per inch — the same as the hacksaw purchased by Trail and Boswell the day Loofe met Boswell for a date on Nov. 15, 2017
Boswell’s trial is scheduled for October, and her attorney has indicated that he plans to ask that her trial be moved out of Saline County due to the publicity surrounding the case.