Petito, Laundrie lawsuit hangs in the balance after arguments

Gabby Petito Case

(NewsNation) — A civil lawsuit brought by the family of Gabby Petito against her boyfriend and suspected killer Brian Laundrie’s family hangs in the balance after a judge heard arguments Wednesday.

The lawsuit filed by Petito’s parents, Joe Petito and Nichole Schmidt, claims Laundrie’s parents, Chris and Roberta, were aware their son murdered Petito and chose not to act.

After hearing arguments from both sides in a Sarasota County Circuit Court, Judge Hunter W. Carroll said he will make a written decision within two weeks about whether the case will go before a jury at a trial expected to be scheduled for next summer.

Pat Reilly, the Florida attorney representing Petito and Schmidt in the civil suit, said the Laundries were liable over her death for not reporting to law enforcement what they knew.

“They knew starting on August 28th of 2021 that Gabby was dead. They knew where Gabby’s body was. They knew the Petito family was desperately searching for information,” Reilly said. “But they did things affirmatively. They didn’t just remain silent”

Schmidt clutched a necklace that had her daughter’s ashes inside as Reilly argued that the Laundries caused them emotional distress by not disclosing where their daughter’s body was.

“It’s about what they did with the information they had,” he said. “They could have made an anonymous phone call and said where the body was located.”

Much of the plaintiffs’ argument came down to a statement made by Laundrie attorney Steven Bertolino.

“On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Ms Petito is successful and that Ms Petito is reunited with her family,” the statement read.

Reilly claimed the Laundries deliberately put out a false statement when they knew she was already dead.

Laundrie’s parents were not present in the courtroom and have not been charged by authorities.

Laundrie family co-counsel Matthew Luka argued that the Laundries had a constitutional right to remain silent and their silence cannot be the basis of a suit over emotional distress.

“What are we going to require of people in a situation like this? Are we going to require them to say everything that they know? Or are they going to be allowed to speak freely or not speak at all,” Luka said. That is really the question before your honor.”

The Laundries had earlier filed the 20-page motion to dismiss the lawsuit, calling Petito and Schmidt’s legal theories “fatally flawed.”

Is a parent obligated to report a crime committed by their child? Watch Entin on Banfield 10/9 CDT.

A coroner concluded Petito, 22, was strangled to death in August 2021 while on a well-documented, cross-country road trip with Laundrie in a converted camper van.

Petito’s body was found at a camping area in Wyoming, days after a nationwide search was launched.

The initial search for Petito, which became a national story, was complicated when Laundrie disappeared just as police named him a person of interest.

It was during this time that the lawsuit accuses the Laundries of withholding information from investigators, keeping their son’s whereabouts a secret and lying through their attorney.

A month later, Laundrie’s remains were found alongside a notebook in which he took responsibility for Petito’s death.

During the nearly two months between the last time Petito was heard from and the discovery of that notebook, Brian Laundrie’s parents did not make any statements to the media. 

The Petitos have not provided any evidence on how they know that the Laundries knew where Gabby’s body was. Their hope is — if the lawsuit moves forward — that the Laundries would be forced to testify and reveal for the first time what they know about what happened.

NewsNation affiliate WFLA contributed to this report.

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