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Crime-and-courts
topical alert
Aubrey Trail sentenced to death in abduction and slaying of Sydney Loofe
  • Updated

WILBER, Neb. — Aubrey Trail told a new story Wednesday about how Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe was lured to her death during a Tinder date in November 2017.

In at least his fourth version of events, Trail said he murdered Loofe to protect his “good life” with girlfriend Bailey Boswell. Trail said he wanted to prevent Loofe from telling police that he was stealing money and engaging in group sex in the couple’s basement apartment in this farm town southwest of Lincoln.

It made no difference.

A three-judge panel sentenced Trail, a 54-year-old ex-con from Tennessee, to die by lethal injection for a slaying a judge said involved “cold, calculated planning.”

“Ms. Loofe was needlessly mutilated by Mr. Trail as part of the plan to satisfy his intellectual curiosity or his sexual desires,” said Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson, the presiding judge.

Her killing demonstrated “a mind totally and senselessly bereft of any regard for human life,” the judge said, reading from the 31-page sentencing order.

The slaying was 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 new friend over the internet.

The death sentence was announced at the Saline County Courthouse, just a few blocks from the apartment where authorities said that the 24-year-old Loofe was lured using the internet dating app Tinder on the pretense of a date with Boswell.

The question that hung in a humid air after the sentencing was whether anyone believed Trail’s latest version of events.

Initially, he denied that he or Boswell was involved in Loofe’s disappearance, and that they’d dropped off Loofe at her friend’s house in Lincoln after their date. Later, in calls to reporters, he said Loofe had died accidentally, of asphyxiation, during a consensual sexual fantasy. Later, the story evolved — things went too far during rough sex.

Only Trail’s defense attorneys seemed to buy the new story, saying it was their client’s attempt to “help” Loofe’s family.

Her family members sat in the front row of the courtroom, as Trail — dressed in an orange prison jumpsuit and sitting in a wheelchair — read his written statement.

Susie Loofe, Loofe’s mother, dabbed tears occasionally as Trail read his statement. Her husband, George, who wore a purple T-shirt that pictured his slain daughter on the back, glared at Trail from time to time.

Loofe’s parents left the courthouse holding hands without commenting on the sentence. They have indicated that they are withholding comment until after Boswell, Trail’s 27-year-old girlfriend, is sentenced sometime later this year.

Judge Johnson, who presided over Trail’s trial 11 months ago, said that the jury rejected his past version of events, and that he admits to being “a thief and a con man.”

The Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, which prosecuted the murder, issued a statement saying the judges “provided a well-reasoned order.”

Trail’s court-ordered defense attorneys, Joe and Ben Murray, said they were not surprised by the sentence. They are pursuing a motion for a new trial, arguing that when Trail attempted suicide during his trial, by slashing himself with a smuggled razor blade, it prejudiced jurors and he wasn’t able to get a fair trial.

All death sentences in Nebraska require an automatic appeal, which could take months. Typically, it takes years to carry out an execution because of the multiple appeals afforded in state and federal courts, though Trail, in phone calls to reporters, has said he deserves to die for the crime.

He joins 11 other men on Nebraska’s death row, which is located at the state prison in Tecumseh.

In his statement, Trail said that he had used his girlfriend to lure several other young women to the Wilber apartment for sex and criminal enterprises. At his trial, three women testified about how Trail flashed wads of cash and promised to take care of them financially, if they joined their group, engaged in group sex and helped to defraud antique dealers and buyers.

Trail said that he “seriously misjudged” Loofe, and that when he explained the ground rules of their lifestyle she “somewhat freaked out.”

Trail said he tried for 30 minutes to calm her down, without success, then bound Loofe’s hands and led her into a bedroom, telling Boswell that they were going to talk.

“I had no doubt that she would tell people if I let her go,” Trail said. “At the time, (Boswell and I) had multiple arrest warrants and were living the good life through our criminal activities. I was willing to do things to protect that.”

He said he choked Loofe to death with an electrical cord and decided to dismember the body — into 14 segments — so he could remove it from the apartment.

A dramatic video shown during his trial, taken from surveillance cameras at a Lincoln Home Depot, showed Trail and Boswell purchasing hacksaw blades, tinsnips and a utility knife just hours before Loofe’s last, fateful date with Boswell. A strong smell of bleach — another item the pair purchased that day — was reported by the upstairs residents on Nov. 16, 2017.

“I can’t say I’m sorry because that would be an insult for what I’ve put you through,” Trail said. “I’ve done some terrible things in my life, but this is the only thing I feel regret about.”

He insisted he was telling the truth, adding, “With no disrespect to the court, I could care less what you do to me today.”

Trail showed no emotion as the sentence was read. He had a smile on his face as he was wheeled out of the courtroom in a wheelchair, an apparent concession to a heart attack and other health issues he’s had since his arrest in 2017.

The disappearance of Loofe, who worked at a Menard’s store in Lincoln, touched off weeks of searches. Loofe arranged an initial date with a woman who said her name was “Audrey,” later identified as Boswell, in Lincoln on Nov. 14, 2017, then agreed to a second date a day later.

Loofe had told friends she worried that Audrey had a boyfriend. It turned out she did — Trail, who has a criminal history in multiple states for crimes involving writing bad checks to antique stores, armed robbery and escape.

Loofe’s remains were found on Dec. 4, 2017, wrapped up in a dozen trash bags and dumped along a lonely gravel road in Clay County, about an hour’s drive from the Wilber apartment shared by Trail and Boswell.

Sex toys, a dog leash and a plastic sauna suit were among the items found amid the remains, which were located by a sleuthing Lincoln police officer using data from Boswell’s cellphones.

Trail and Boswell were ultimately tracked down and arrested in Branson, Missouri, where they were found with newly purchased camping gear and a map of the U.S.-Mexico border area.

Trail was found guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder after a trial in which the jury deliberated for less than three hours, barely enough time to pick a foreperson and review the evidence. Prior to the trial, he pleaded guilty to improper disposal of human remains.

On Wednesday, he was sentenced to serve 50 years in prison on the conspiracy charge, and two more years for improper disposal of human remains — terms that would be meaningless if his death sentence is upheld on appeal.

In court Wednesday, it took more than 90 minutes for Judge Johnson to read the sentencing order reached by her and fellow judges, Susan Strong of Lincoln and Michael Smith of Plattsmouth.

The judges ruled that Trail deserved to die by lethal injection rather than the alternative sentence for first-degree murder, life in prison without parole. They said the crime was comparable to others that resulted in a death sentence.

Johnson said Loofe’s murder showed exceptional depravity because Trail selected his victims based on certain characteristics: young, attractive women who were attracted to Boswell. Exceptional depravity is one of the aggravating circumstances required to impose a death sentence.

Johnson also said that the depravity of the crime outweighed the only mitigating factor found — that Trail grew up disadvantaged and poor, in and out of foster homes and juvenile facilities, and was first sent to prison, for armed robbery, at age 17.

The judge said that Trail talked often with Boswell and others about murder and abduction, that he was aroused sexually by torture, and, in the end, relished the murder, a senseless act involving a helpless victim.

Boswell awaits a sentencing trial that begins June 30 to determine if she would qualify for a death sentence. If sentenced to death, she would be the first woman sent to death row in Nebraska.


Photos: Candlelight vigil for Sydney Loofe


State-and-regional
alert
Nebraska to consider hunting season for river otters
  • Updated

A young North American river otter recently rescued by Nebraska Wildlife Rehab is a sign of one of the state’s greatest rehabilitation efforts.

Unregulated harvest and loss of habitat wiped out the species until the Nebraska Game and Parks Commission released 159 otters on seven waterways from 1986 to 1991. There had been no record of the animal in the state from 1916 to 1977.

Game and Parks now estimates there are about 2,000 in Nebraska, a healthy enough population that a pilot season on river otters will be considered Friday when commissioners meet in Chadron. A harvest of 75 otters would trigger the season to close within three days, with the session starting in November.

That the species has become so abundant that a season is being considered is a huge deal after years of effort by Game and Parks staff.

“It’s one of the greatest conservation success stories in the past 40 years in Nebraska, in my view,’’ said Sam Wilson, furbearer and carnivore program manager.

Meanwhile, Laura Stastny, executive director at Nebraska Wildlife Rehab, is working to keep that one orphaned baby flourishing so that it can be released successfully in the wild this fall.

The 10-week-old female is the first to be rescued by the organization because there just weren’t many of the species around until recent years.

“They are definitely a conservation success story in Nebraska, thanks to the Game and Parks Commission,” Stastny said.

She couldn’t reveal where the youngster was found but said otters are becoming more common along the Platte and Niobrara Rivers.

NEBRASKA WILDLIFE REHAB 

Three staffers are taking care of the youngster, which they hope to successfully release in the fall. 

This one was discovered in a field on private property, which is abnormal. The property owners correctly left the animal overnight to see if its mother would reclaim it. When she did not, they called Nebraska Wildlife Rehab.

“We don’t know if it was orphaned and wandering or if something happened while the mom was moving it from one den to another,” Stastny said.

The female was dehydrated but otherwise healthy. She’s still on formula but is weaning over to solids.

The one enclosure that Nebraska Wildlife Rehab has for water mammals is occupied by two baby beavers, so the group is building a temporary home for the otter at its facility in Washington County.

“We swim her every day in a smaller pool,” Stastny said. “She needs to go into a big outdoor enclosure with a big outdoor pool so she can swim at will. Otters live mostly on fish. She needs a pool deep enough to practice fishing.”

The plan is to purchase a deep horse tank, bury it in the ground and build a cage around it.

Once Nebraska Wildlife Rehab’s new 16,000-square-foot facility at 96th and L Streets is completed, babies such as the otter and two beavers will have their own perfectly equipped nurseries. That facility should open by the end of August.

“We’re really excited to be there,” Stastny said.

It’s been a busy spring for the rehab organization. Members took in more than 1,300 animals in May alone and are currently caring for more than 800.

Last week, the organization set a record for baby rabbits in its care with 265. The previous record had been around 180 at one time.

Three staff members will care for the otter. Stastny said it’s been a lifelong wish for one of them to rehabilitate a river otter.

“We are excited when we have a new species,” she said. “It’s a great honor to have the opportunity to rehabilitate this one and return it to the wild.”


Our best Omaha staff photos of June 2021

State-and-regional
Keystone XL
Keystone pipeline canceled after Biden had blocked permit
  • Updated

BILLINGS, Mont. — The sponsor of the Keystone XL crude oil pipeline said Wednesday it is pulling the plug on the contentious project after Canadian officials failed to persuade President Joe Biden to reverse his cancellation of its permit on the day he took office.

Calgary-based TC Energy said it would work with government agencies “to ensure a safe termination of and exit from” the partially built line, which was to transport crude from the oil sand fields of western Canada to Steele City, Nebraska.

Construction on the 1,200-mile pipeline began last year after former President Donald Trump revived the long-delayed project, which had stalled under the Obama administration.

During his campaign, Biden pledged to shelve the project, first proposed 12 years ago. He cited the same environmental concerns that led his former boss, then-President Barack Obama, to deny the Keystone XL a permit to cross into the U.S. in 2015.

Environmental groups were hoping Biden would fulfill his promise to dump the $8 billion project, which would have moved up to 830,000 barrels of crude daily. But the Canadian government, labor unions and oil industry groups revved up a last-ditch effort earlier this year to save the Keystone XL.

Wednesday’s announcement was cheered in Nebraska by members of a grassroots opposition campaign.

“On behalf of our Ponca Nation we welcome this long overdue news and thank all who worked so tirelessly to educate and fight to prevent this from coming to fruition. It’s a great day for Mother Earth,” said Ponca Tribe of Nebraska Chairman Larry Wright Jr. in a statement.

Pipeline supporters argued that jobs connected to the pipeline would fit Biden’s “build back better” goal for the economy. They say improvements in mining techniques have lowered carbon dioxide emissions at the massive open-pit mines and injection wells where the oil sands are extracted.

Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts criticized the Biden administration for depriving the state of jobs and tax revenue that the pipeline would have created.

“This is yet another example of the Biden-Harris Administration putting the priorities of radical environmental activists above our national interest,” Ricketts said in a statement Wednesday. “Without Keystone XL, the United States will not only be more dependent on overseas sources of oil, but our state will not enjoy the benefit of the jobs and property tax revenue the project would have brought.”

Attorneys general from 21 states, including Nebraska, had sued to overturn Biden’s cancellation of the contentious pipeline.

Environmentalists described the pipeline’s cancellation as a “landmark moment” in the effort to curb the use of fossil fuels that contribute to climate change, though some in Nebraska warned that the battle would not be over until the state’s Public Service Commission revoked TC Energy’s permit.

“Now, the Nebraska Public Service Commission must prepare an order revoking the state permit they granted TransCanada,” said Jane Kleeb, founder of the Keystone pipeline opposition group Bold Nebraska, in a statement. “Until the Commissioners act, farmers and ranchers will continue to face TransCanada’s attorneys in court, protecting their property from an eminent domain land grab by a foreign corporation.”

World-Herald staff writer Paul Hammel contributed to this report.


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