A US woman convicted of murder for her role in the death and dismemberment of a Nebraska hardware store clerk was sentenced to life in prison on Monday, avoiding the prospect of being the first woman in state history to be sentenced to death.
A three-judge panel deadlocked on the appropriate sentence for Bailey Boswell, with two arguing that the 27-year-old deserved to die for her crimes and the third maintaining that prosecutors failed to prove that the case merited the ultimate punishment.
Boswell will now spend the rest of her life at the Nebraska Correctional Centre for Women for her role in the 2017 death and dismemberment of Sydney Loofe.
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She was sentenced at the county courthouse in Wilber, about 65 kilometres southwest of Lincoln.
Prosecutors said Boswell and her boyfriend, Aubrey Trail, 55, had been planning to kill someone before Boswell met Ms Loofe, 24, on the dating app Tinder and lured her to them.
Ms Loofe, a cashier at a Menards store in Lincoln, was strangled. Her body parts were later found in garbage bags, cut into 14 pieces and left in ditches along country roads in rural Clay County.
Boswell’s court-appointed attorney, Todd Lancaster, said he was aware of at least two other cases in Nebraska where a three-judge panel split over whether to impose the death penalty, resulting in a default life sentence.
“I can say that Bailey is grateful for the sake of her family and particularly her (seven-year-old) daughter, Nahla, that she did not receive a death sentence, and so am I,” said Mr Lancaster, of the Nebraska Commission on Public Advocacy.
In a statement, Nebraska Attorney General Doug Peterson did not directly address the ruling but thanked local law enforcement and the jury that convicted Boswell for their work.
“With the criminal cases coming to a close and the anniversary of (Ms Loofe’s) death approaching, our thoughts are with the Loofe family during this difficult time,” Mr Peterson said.
Judge Peter Bataillon, the lone dissenter in Monday’s ruling, called the crime horrible and said Boswell should spend the rest of her life in prison, but he said he wasn’t convinced that she had shown “exceptional depravity,” the legal standard required for a death sentence.
He did not elaborate but has voted to impose death sentences in the past.
Judges Vicky Johnson and Darla Ideus disagreed and ruled in favour of capital punishment.
Both judges concluded that Boswell deserved death because she helped lure Ms Loofe back to the apartment where she and Trail lived and bought power tools ahead of time that were used to cut up Loofe’s body.
They also pointed to statements at trial that Boswell was sexually aroused by thoughts of people being tortured and killed.
“Boswell’s actions and words demonstrate that she had no regard for the life of Sydney Loofe beyond her own pleasure,” Johnson said.
Judge Johnson described Ms Loofe as a “helpless victim” who was targeted in a cold, calculating manner.
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As she read her ruling aloud in court, several members of Loofe’s family lowered their heads and one woman dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. The family left the courtroom after the sentencing without taking questions.
Boswell was convicted in October 2020 of first-degree murder, conspiracy to commit murder and improper disposal of human remains.
Trail was convicted of the same charges in 2019 and sentenced in June to death. No execution date has been set, and based on Nebraska’s history with the death penalty, it’s unlikely his punishment will be carried out anytime soon.
Although Trail has changed his story numerous times, he admitted at his sentencing that he strangled Ms Loofe with an electric cord, as prosecutors had alleged.
He said he tied up Ms Loofe and killed her because she “freaked out” when he told her about his lifestyle with Ms Loofe and other young women, which included defrauding antique dealers and rough group sex.
Trail acknowledged that he repeatedly lied to authorities and plotted to kill Ms Loofe two to three hours before her slaying.
But he asserted that Boswell wasn’t in the room and didn’t know he was going to do it — a claim that Judges Johnson and Ideus didn’t believe.
Trail became the 12th man on death row in Nebraska, a state that rarely carries out executions.
He missed much of his own trial after slashing his neck in the courtroom and yelling, “Bailey is innocent, I curse you all.”
The state’s most recent execution was of convicted murderer Carey Dean Moore in 2018, after Moore dropped all of his appeals and asked to be killed. Before that, Nebraska’s last execution was in 1997.
Boswell will now become the 16th woman serving a life sentence in Nebraska for first-degree murder, according to a Nebraska Department of Correctional Services spokeswoman. The men on death row are awaiting execution at the all-male Tecumseh State Correctional Institution.