Lincoln Journal Star, Neb.
WILBER — Bailey Boswell was ushered out of the courtroom, her hands and legs in shackles, in front of Sydney Loofe’s family Monday morning, moments after both sides learned she would not go to death row for the 24-year-old Lincoln woman’s killing and dismemberment.
Instead, Boswell, 27, got an automatic life sentence, plus 50 years for conspiracy to commit murder and two years for unlawful disposal of human remains, the maximum penalty on each count.
It was perhaps the closest a woman has come to a death sentence in Nebraska.
After outlining the case and the factors for more than an hour, Saline County District Judge Vicky Johnson said she and Lancaster County District Judge Darla Ideus found that the state had proven the sole aggravating factor alleged: that the killing manifested “exceptional depravity” under state law.
The killing had been coldly planned, Johnson said, and Boswell had relished in the crime, shown by the needless mutilation of Loofe’s body, the senselessness of the killing and helplessness of the victim.
“Boswell’s actions and words demonstrated that she had no regard for the life of Sydney Loofe beyond her own personal pleasure,” Johnson said, reading from the lengthy order.
But, in order to go on to consider mitigating circumstances and weigh the case against others that led to death-row sentences, all three judges on the panel had to agree unanimously.
And Douglas County District Judge Peter Bataillon didn’t.
The Omaha judge stood and read a short dissent, saying “I could not find beyond a reasonable doubt that the state of Nebraska met its burden of proof as to this aggravating circumstance.”
Bataillon didn’t elaborate on his reasoning but said that “nothing in this dissent should be understood to diminish the senselessness of the murder of Sydney Loofe and the great pain this has caused her family and friends.”
After the courtroom cleared, deputies escorted Loofe’s family, some wearing T-shirts with her picture and the words of her tattoo “Everything will be wonderful some day,” to their cars.
In a statement, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson, whose office prosecuted the case, said throughout the criminal justice process, Loofe’s family has persevered with dignity.
“With the criminal cases coming to a close and the anniversary of her death approaching, our thoughts are with the Loofe family during this difficult time,” he said.
Peterson said he appreciated the challenging work by the jury that heard the case, and he thanked law enforcement agencies for collaborating in developing the evidence necessary to result in the murder conviction and sentence.
Outside the courtroom, Boswell’s attorney, Todd Lancaster, of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy, said she had been teary-eyed when she learned her sentence.
“I can say that Bailey is grateful, for the sake of her family and for her (7-year-old) daughter, Nahla, that she did not receive a death sentence,” he said.
Asked if justice was served, Lancaster paused and said he wasn’t sure how to answer that.
He said he thinks it’s a good thing that Boswell didn’t get the death penalty.
“Whether we should have the death penalty? We’ve gone back and forth on that in the state,” he said.
This was a case where the state sought a death sentence and lots of resources and time were put in by the state and the defense, “and we ended up with the same result as if we didn’t have a death penalty,” he said.
Boswell’s co-defendant, Aubrey Trail, 55, was sentenced to death for his role in the crime in June.
The Lincoln store clerk’s disappearance the night of Nov. 15, 2017, led to a multistate manhunt for Boswell and Trail, who in Facebook videos claimed to know nothing about it. Their cellphone records, though, would lead police, deputies and the FBI to fields and ditches in Clay County, where they made the grisly discovery of Loofe’s remains left scattered in trash bags.
Separate juries later found Trail and Boswell guilty of first-degree murder and conspiracy to commit murder for luring Loofe to their Wilber apartment, where they killed her and dismembered her body.
She’d met up with Boswell that night under the guise of a date after meeting her online on the Tinder app.
At a hearing in July, the three-judge panel heard aggravating and mitigating evidence, where prosecutors worked to prove that Boswell had shown cold, calculated planning of Loofe’s murder.
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 video where she and Trail were buying hacksaw blades, tin snips and Drano before the date with Loofe.
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, the defense sought to explain how Boswell, a high school star athlete in Leon, Iowa, and small-town girl before she left for college, had ended up with Trail, a liar and con man twice her age, and involved in a killing.
Dr. Kirk Newring, a psychologist hired by the defense, said Boswell had turned to alcohol and drugs to deal with emotional abuse and verbal berating by a college coach, had been sexually assaulted in college and made to believe it was her fault and then suffered beatings and sexual punishments by her boyfriend, a football player who had seemed charming at first and later trafficked her on Backpage, a website that advertised commercial sex acts.
Which is how Trail found Boswell.
Newring described the relationship that developed as a “trauma bond,” where Boswell quickly became reliant on Trail for everything.
Boswell told the panel that day she was sorry for everything that happened to Loofe “and for my role in what happened to her,” and pleaded with the judges not to take her life for her young daughter’s sake.
“I believed he really loved me,” she said of Trail, who gave her gifts and money. “Later, I was afraid of him.”
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