Appointed to defend Aubrey Trail, Ben Murray was looking right at him when Trail slashed his own throat.
“We had just started the evidence. We had a hotel clerk on the stand. I thought someone was attacking him. I looked over and watched him slice his throat,” Murray said.
He and his father and co-public defender, Joe Murray, “bolted” away from Trail, who later received stitches. From then on, Trail’s attendance at his own trial was iffy.
“You don’t actually have a constitutional right to be at your own trial,” Murray said. “You can waive it or be banned by the judge.”
Trail was convicted July 10 in Saline County District Court of first degree murder for the November 2017 death and dismemberment of Sydney Loofe, 24, of Lincoln.
The Saline County Sheriff sent a team each morning to the Lincoln Diagnostic and Evaluation Center after Trail injured himself and Trail would tell the team whether or not he was attending his trial that day.
“He came back the last week to testify,” Murray said.
Days for the Murrays were long — as court adjourned each day, one or both of them were meeting with Trail in Lincoln or speaking to him by telephone.
They worked 16 to 18 hours a day and weekends.
“We’re relieved it’s over, but it’s not really over,” Murray said.
Most of the time, Trail was fine, but Murray said he could turn on a dime.
“You don’t know what you’re going to get from day to day. But he was pretty easy to get along with,” Murray said.
Before the trial when Murray was first appointed, he said there would be surprises.
Testimony of witchcraft, a woman wearing a cat collar and eating from dishes on the floor, and Loofe’s prior contact with Bailey Boswell in the year before her murder, added to the bizarre behavior of Trail during his trial.
Boswell called herself “Audrey” when trying to date Loofe on Tinder, a virtual dating website, in November of 2017, and she was with Trail before and after Loofe was killed.
Together, the two of them professed their innocence through social media and recorded videos prior to their arrests in Branson, Mo.
“A lot of this stuff doesn’t make sense,” Murray said. “It was unbelievable what was going on in that house.”
Boswell’s trial starts in October. Her public defender is currently attempting a change of venue from Saline County to another location because of too much press coverage, according to news reports.
First degree murder is an intentional act, and Murray doesn’t think Trail intended to kill Loofe.
“The state’s story was he is a meticulous planner and doesn’t make mistakes. If that’s what they think, then how do they explain how ridiculous his acts were after?” Murray asked.
He was careless, Murray added.
“They didn’t bury her or hide her. They drove west to Grand Island, then Kearney and headed toward Colorado. Then they drove to Omaha, had maps for Mexico and went into Iowa,” Murray said.
As far as the items purchased at Home Depot by the two of them, who were captured on the store cameras, Murray said they didn’t use a brand new hacksaw blade to dismember Loofe as the state indicated.
“The expert testified it was not brand new, and there were 12 boxes of trash bags in the house. They bought and sold on eBay all the time,” he said. “They found a dozen box cutters in that house. The state showed they were planning it. We disagree.”
It was the same with the drop cloths. They were all over the apartment and in their Branson hotel room.
There were several incidents during the trial that stood out to Murray, but the one that made the most impact was when the judge didn’t want the names of the three women who testified to the witchcraft and role-playing against Trail, published.
Just moments after district judge Vicky Johnson issued the order, tweets revealed the women’s names.
“There was not an open seat in the courtroom. It was packed,” Murray said.
People couldn’t believe what happened in their rented apartment, and that it took place in Wilber, Murray said.
“The car leaving with the body in the trunk was on the high school camera,” he said.
Trail will be sentenced as a three-judge panel determines his fate based on aggravating circumstances and whether he should receive the death penalty.
For someone who didn’t plan to kill Loofe, as Murray believes, Trail is being subjected to the state’s death penalty mission.
The Murrays will argue that as horrible as Loofe’s death was, the state can’t use her dismemberment as a reason for the death penalty.
“If the state had gone after life without parole, it would have gone faster,” Murray said. “But the death penalty opens up a more difficult process and really, it’s just throwing money. He’s not going to live long enough for them to kill him. They just want the satisfaction of saying they got a death penalty.”