The hearing was to determine if the case filed by the Petitos, whose daughter is believed to have been murdered by Brian in 2021, will proceed to a jury trial next year.
According to Fox News, in the lawsuit, the Petitos allege Laundrie’s parents had knowledge that their son murdered Gabby after a month-long cross-country trip, and even made plans to help him escape charges. The lawsuit also claims that the Laundries knew the location of Gabby’s body and did not tell authorities, who were running a missing person’s investigation at the time.
The civil suit additionally claims that instead of helping the Petito family search for Gabby, the Laundries took Brian on vacation and avoided questions from Gabby’s mother and father as to their daughter’s whereabouts.
Nichole Schmidt and Jim Schmidt, Petito’s mother and stepfather, and Joseph and Tara Petito, her father and stepmother, all appeared in the Sarasota County, Fla., court Wednesday afternoon.
Christopher and Roberta Laundrie were not legally required to attend and did not show.
Judge Hunter W. Carroll heard the Petitos’ reasoning for the civil lawsuit, and the Laundries’ response, through their lawyer, asking to dismiss the case.
“Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie exhibited extreme and outrageous conduct which constitutes behavior, under the circumstances, which goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the lawsuit alleges.
“As a direct and proximate result of the willfulness and maliciousness of Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt had been caused to suffer pain and suffering, mental anguish, inconvenience, loss of capacity for enjoyment of life experienced in the past and to be experienced in the future,” the filing continues.
The lawsuit claims Brian is “believed” to have murdered Gabby on Aug. 21, 2021. The document goes on to allege Brian confessed the killing to his parents on Aug. 28. By Sept. 2, the family had hired a lawyer, Steve Bertolino.
Bertolino and his co-counsel Matthew Luka argued in court that the civil lawsuit had “no legal footing.” They claimed the Laundrie family was asserting their fifth amendment rights to not incriminate themselves.
This is in response to a key element of the civil trial, a Sept. 14 statement from Bertolino on behalf of the Laundries, given before Gabby’s body was eventually recovered.
“It is our understanding that a search has been organized for Miss Petito in or near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming,” the statement read. “On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is reunited with her family.”
Luka told the court on Wednesday that the Petito-Schmidt families “argue that the Laundries had an obligation, a duty to speak.” He continued: “In our society, under our laws, people are free not to speak.”
In court, Judge Carroll questioned whether the statement from Bertolino counts as a statement made by the Laundries.
Patrick Reilly, the lawyer for the Petito family, argued against the Laundries’ motion to dismiss the case.
“This case is not simply about the silence of Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, who knew that their son had brutally murdered Gabby Petito,” Reilly said in court. “It’s not simply about their callous refusal, despite pleas from the Petito family, to speak up about whether or not Gabby was alive and if she wasn’t where her body was located.”
“It’s about a course of conduct that they committed from the moment they learned on August 28th of 2021 that their son had brutally murdered Gabby Petito up until the time that her body was found,” he argued.
The Petito family is seeking over US$30,000 in damages for the “mental anguish” they claim they suffered from the alleged deceit of the Laundrie family.
Gabby disappeared last year after a month-long cross-country trip with Brian across the United States. She was last seen alive on Aug. 26, 2021.
In mid-September, Gabby’s remains were found in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. A medical examiner confirmed she died from strangulation and blunt force trauma to the head.
By that time, Brian was missing. His parents told police their son disappeared on Sept. 17, three days after they said they had last seen him.
A lawyer for the Laundrie family later confirmed on Nov. 23 that Brian died by suicide, from a gunshot wound to the head.
A decision is expected in the coming days.
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