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Death penalty phase begins in murder case

By Lori Pilger

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    WILBER, Nebraska (Lincoln Journal Star) — Just three weeks after Aubrey Trail was sentenced to death for the 2017 murder and dismemberment of Sydney Loofe, a three-judge panel began hearing evidence Wednesday to determine if Bailey Boswell, Trail’s co-conspirator, should get the same punishment.

Boswell would be the first woman in Nebraska to get a death sentence.

Separate juries found Trail, 54, and Boswell, 27, guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for luring Loofe to their Wilber apartment on the night of Nov. 15, 2017, where the 24-year-old Lincoln store clerk was killed and her body dismembered.

At a hearing that started Wednesday in Saline County District Court, prosecutors alleged the killing showed “exceptional depravity,” as outlined in state law.

Assistant Attorney General Doug Warner pointed to planning that Boswell was part of, including steps to conceal her identity when she posted Tinder profiles, and to a medium-sized sauna suit with the crotch cut out and a boxed sex toy found dumped near the remains in rural Clay County, which suggested they’d carried out a sexual fantasy other women said they’d heard them talk about in the months before the killing.

Warner also pointed to the more-than-necessary number of cuts to dismember Loofe’s body and superficial cut marks around the tattoo on her arm that said “Everything will be wonderful someday” as signs that Boswell and Trail relished the crime.

On the other side, defense attorney Todd Lancaster said it was evidence only of an effort to get rid of the body.

“That’s all it is. It’s not something else depraved with some other heinous intention on the mind of whoever’s disposing of that body,” he said.

Lancaster said that in Nebraska, mutilation cases that rise to the death penalty have been limited to injuries while the victim still was alive. Not dismemberments after the victim’s death, like here.

And he asked the three-judge panel to look with skepticism at statements about torture and killing made months before Loofe’s murder.

“The evidence you’re going to hear is obviously going to include statements and behaviors and acts done by Aubrey Trail,” Lancaster said. “He is not the person that we are determining that these aggravating factors apply to today. It’s the state of mind and actions of Bailey Boswell.”

Testimony began with FBI Special Agent Eli McBride and photos of the scenes where Loofe’s remains had been scattered in ditches in rural Clay County and by afternoon had moved to Michelle Elieff, the forensic pathologist who did the autopsy and concluded Loofe’s death was caused by “homicidal means, including strangulation.”

With both witnesses came gruesome photos. For some of the worst, Boswell kept her head down, looking away from monitors displaying the images.

Warner questioned Elieff about marks that showed bruises forming in a line, which she said suggested Loofe’s wrists had been tied prior to her death. She also had a larger bruise on her thigh, a small bump on the back of her head, a cut ear lobe and scuff marks on her spine.

And he asked about several superficial, linear markings on her body made after her death.

Lancaster objected to those and others showing postmortem injuries, arguing that anything that happened after Loofe’s death wasn’t relevant to this hearing.

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