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It was an unusual day in the Sydney Loofe murder trial.
The defendant Aubrey Trail didn’t appear, a juror was accused of blogging and the judge threatened to “pull the plug” on extended media coverage.
The prosecution was expected to call its first witnesses in the trial on Wednesday, but no testimony was even heard in Saline County District Court.
As the trial finally reconvened at 10:25 a.m., the judge, jurors, attorneys, media, members of the Loofe family and others were present. It seemed that everyone was accounted for — that is, except the defendant, 52-year-old Aubrey Trail.
District Judge Vicky Johnson said there had been a delay, but she was not going to discuss reasons for the delay.
“I’m not going to muddy the waters,” the judge said.
Then she gave further directions to the jurors, instructing them not to read anything on social media or visit any of the locations involved in the case. Jurors were asked to return at 12:45 p.m.
When court was back in session at 1:05 p.m., the judge reminded jurors that she had instructed them not to talk about the case.
“The court staff received two phone calls that a juror has been blogging information about the case,” she said. “Now I’m obligated to talk to you individually.”
Another recess was taken as the judge called each juror and alternate into her chambers, one by one.
Several media members questioned whether it was actually a juror making the posts or if the judge was referring to a blog comment on a Lincoln TV station blog: “My daughter is a juror and they are not sequestered. They are not allowed to research the case outside of court.”
Around 1:30 p.m., she went back on record and told the courtroom that she was “waiting on a phone call” before proceeding, so the jury was dismissed.
After jurors left the courtroom, the judge spoke directly to the press, “I am concerned that we’ve made it an atmosphere here that it’s approaching a point where I’m going to have to take some action.” She told the media that she has two decisions to make: “sequester the jury for three weeks or pull the plug on expanded media coverage.” The judge said she was concerned about the audio feed going outside the courtroom to media members as well as jurors walking by media.
She later informed the courtroom that the trial would not proceed any further on Wednesday and said it would reconvene on Thursday at 9 a.m.
A Lincoln Journal Star reporter later tweeted that she heard that Aubrey Trail had been “taken from D&E in Lincoln, where he was being held, on a 911 emergency today.”
Defense attorney Joseph Murray said he couldn’t comment on his client’s health.
Trail has been charged with first degree murder, a class I or class IA felony; conspiracy to commit first-degree murder, a class II felony; and improper disposal of human skeletal remains, a class IV felony.
On Monday, he pleaded guilty to the latter charge in what is being called a “legally strategic move” in an attempt to keep out evidence showing grisly photos of Loofe’s dismembered body.