WILBER -- Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts' office won't have to turn over any communications it may have had with state prosecutors over their decision to seek the death penalty against Aubrey Trail, following a judge's ruling Wednesday.

Defense attorney Ben Murray said he was just trying to determine whether the decision was based on the circumstances of the case "and not on some improper influence."

He said he didn't know if it happened in this instance, but said it has happened before, pointing to a 2013 letter then-Gov. Dave Heineman sent to the Douglas County Attorney regarding seeking the death penalty against Nikko Jenkins, who killed four people in Omaha.

"We're not just taking a shot in the dark here," Murray told Saline County District Judge Vicky L. Johnson.

Assistant Attorney General Mike Guinan argued against the motion, calling it "basically a fishing expedition," based only on Ricketts spending personal money to put the question of whether the state should have the death penalty before voters after state lawmakers repealed it in 2016.

Nebraskans ultimately voted to keep capital punishment on the books.

In court Wednesday arguing against the defense motion, Guinan said he highly doubted there were any communications like the defense was seeking. But if a prosecutor had some kind of political motivation, what would the court do and what would the remedy be?

"Would there be some kind of courtroom confessional where we absolve prosecutors of impure thoughts?" Guinan posed, facetiously.

He said Trail's attorneys just wanted to see if there was political pressure to seek the death penalty in this case.

"Which there should not be," Johnson jumped in. "It's just not appropriate."

Guinan agreed and said he was involved early in making all charging decisions, large and small, and wasn't pressured by anyone.

This had nothing to do with politics, he said.

"We believe the facts clearly justify the finding," Guinan said.

In the end, Johnson said it was premature because Trail hasn't been convicted yet and overruled the motion.

Trail is set to go to trial in June on charges of first-degree murder and improper disposal of human remains in the November 2017 slaying of Sydney Loofe.

Last month, prosecutors added a conspiracy charge alleging he conspired with Boswell to solicit young women online, to recruit others to carry out a murder and to select Loofe as their victim.

Loofe, 24, met Boswell on the dating app Tinder and went missing Nov. 16, 2017, after going on a date with Boswell the night before.

Loofe’s remains were found in Clay County on Dec. 4, 2017, and investigators allege Trail strangled her before he and Boswell dismembered and dumped her body and then fled the state, according to court documents.

Trail has told investigators and news reporters that Loofe died at his hands accidentally.

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Reach the writer at 402-473-7237 or lpilger@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSpilger.


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