LINCOLN — The attorney for accused murderer Aubrey Trail wants to discover whether Gov. Pete Ricketts, a staunch supporter of capital punishment, had any influence on the decision to seek the death penalty for Trail and his girlfriend.
Attorney Ben Murray, Trail’s court-appointed defense attorney, filed a motion on Friday to discover “all communications” between the governor’s office and attorneys with the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office, who are prosecuting Trail and who decided to seek the death penalty.
Murray said that he is not alleging wrongdoing by the governor and only has suspicion of his office’s involvement, but that any decision to seek the death penalty must not be based on “improper influence or bias.”
“Seeking death on the basis of political or personal gain would constitute an improper reason to seek the execution …” stated the motion.
“I feel like we have a right to know,” Murray said in a telephone interview. “It’s too important not to find out if everything is on the up and up.”
The governor’s office spokesman, Taylor Gage, said that they do not comment on pending litigation.
The discovery motion is another bizarre twist in an already bizarre case.
Trail, 52, and his girlfriend, Bailey Boswell, 25, are accused in the slaying and dismemberment of Lincoln store clerk Sydney Loofe. Loofe, 24, disappeared after arranging a date with Boswell via an Internet dating app, Tinder, on Nov. 15, 2017.
Trail and Boswell went on Facebook as a massive search was underway to find Loofe to say they were not responsible. Weeks later, after they were arrested, Trail called reporters to say he accidentally strangled Loofe to death during a sexual fantasy. Boswell, according to Trail, was not there during the slaying, but assisted in disposing of the body.
Last summer, the Attorney General’s Office announced that the death penalty would be sought for both Trail and Boswell.
That was about 1½ years after Nebraskans voted to restore capital punishment in Nebraska via a referendum that was backed by Ricketts financially and via his public statements. The governor gave $300,000 toward the petition drive to put the matter on the ballot; his father, TD Ameritrade founder Joe Ricketts, gave $100,000.
The initiative was launched after the Nebraska Legislature, in the spring of 2015, voted to abolish the death penalty over a veto from the Republican governor.
Friday’s motion by Trail’s attorney stated that the “potential for improper influence” from Ricketts was illustrated by his spending “substantial” personal sums to support the effort to restore the death penalty, and because state attorneys — rather than prosecutors from Saline County — chose to take over the prosecution of Trail.
Trail, who shared an apartment in Wilber, Nebraska, with Boswell, is scheduled to stand trial on June 17 at the Saline County Courthouse. Boswell’s trial is scheduled to begin on Oct. 15.