LINCOLN, Neb. (Courtesy of KOLN) – A hearing to determine whether convicted murderer Aubrey Trail will receive the death penalty began on Thursday morning.
The hearing is taking place in Saline County on Thursday and Friday. Aubrey Trail will not be in attendance after waiving his right to appear.
The state has brought in three judges, including the original trial judge, Vicky Johnson, to decide whether or not Trail will be put to death for killing 24-year-old Sydney Loofe. The hearing will resemble the previous trials, with the prosecution presenting evidence, but this time they’re not trying to prove that Trail killed Loofe. The prosecution will try to prove that the killing displayed extreme depravity, one of the state’s qualifiers for the death penalty.
There are nine different definitions of aggravating circumstances but the three-judge panel would only have to determine if Loofe’s murder contained one. It’s likely the judges will be looking the closest at this one: “The murder was especially heinous, atrocious, cruel, or manifested exceptional depravity by ordinary standards of morality and intelligence.”
This time the prosecution isn’t presenting the evidence to a jury, but three judges. The three are Judge Johnson, Judge Susan Strong and Judge Michael Smith.
In opening statements, the prosecutor walked through the evidence that convinced a jury to convict Trail of Loofe’s murder. They said the evidence of preparation, talk of torture and dismemberment show extreme depravity – necessary to put Trail to death.
The defense said the evidence shows this was an accidental killing, followed by panic. They said the state doesn’t know what happened and their narrative of Trail being a monster is made up. The defense attorney said the judges have to separate fantasy from reality, and they asked the judges to sentence Trail to life in prison.
FBI Special Agent Eli McBride was the first witness. He walked the judges through the discovery of a sauna suit that the prosecution alleges was used during Loofe’s murder. He described how it was found in Clay County along with 13 pieces of Loofe’s body, which was discarded in black garbage bags in ditches. In cross examination, the defense asked McBride to confirm that the sauna suit found in Clay County was too small to fit Trail, and McBride agreed.
The next witness was Dr. Michelle Elieff, the pathologist who performed Sydney Loofe’s autopsy. She said Loofe’s cause of death was homicidal violence with signs of strangulation. She walked the judges through the autopsy, including describing the way the body was dismembered and the potential causes of scrapes and shallow cuts on the body, which she said could have been caused by a thin sharp object like a saw or blade.
Trail was found guilty of first-degree murder in July 2019 for killing Loofe in November 2017. His co-defendant, Bailey Boswell, was also found guilty of first-degree murder last year.