Brian Laundrie’s parents to skip hearing on fate of Gabby Petito family's civil lawsuit
VENICE, Fla. - The family of Gabby Petito, the young woman who is suspected of having been murdered last year by her boyfriend, Brian Laundrie, will be in Florida court on Wednesday, when a judge will hear arguments from both sides over whether their lawsuit should go to a jury trial.
The Petito-Schmidt families and their attorney will appear before Judge Hunter W. Carroll in a Sarasota County Circuit Court for the 1:30 p.m. hearing, which the Laundrie family attorney, Steven Bertolino, will attend virtually, Fox News Digital has learned. Laundrie’s parents, Chris and Roberta, will not be present in the courtroom and will also not appear virtually, Bertolino told Fox News Digital.
Petito's family has alleged that Laundrie's parents were aware that their son killed their daughter and attempted to help him flee justice. Patrick Reilly, the attorney who is representing the Petito-Schmidt families in the civil matter, told Fox News Digital on Wednesday: "I have no comment at this point and don’t know if the judge will rule today."
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Laundrie and 22-year-old Petito left for a trip in mid-June 2021 with the plan to visit national parks in a white converted Ford Transit. The couple had met years earlier on Long Island, New York, where they grew up and later moved into Brian’s parents' North Port, Florida, home.
During their travels through Utah, Moab Police received a report of a domestic violence incident involving the couple. A witness told 911 he saw a man, later found to be Brian Laundrie, hitting and "slapping" the woman, Petito, on August 12.
The call appears to contradict a police report in which an officer states "no one reported that the male struck the female."
One of the officers on the scene wrote that the incident could be "more accurately categorized as a mental/emotional health ‘break’ than a domestic assault."
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An outside investigation found "unintentional mistakes," and recommended the officers involved in the case be placed on probation, according to a report released Jan. 12.
Laundrie arrived back in North Port on Sept. 1 — with the van, but without Petito.
Parents Chris and Roberta Laundrie said Brian, 23, left his family’s North Port, home on Sept. 13 to hike in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, located alongside the T. Mabry Carlton Jr. Memorial Reserve. The Laundries' attorney had initially identified the date of Brian's disappearance as being Sept. 14 before changing the timeline weeks later.
After his disappearance, state, local, county and federal law enforcement extensively searched the reserve and the Myakkahatchee, where Laundrie was said to have parked his car at the time.
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His family did not announce until Sept. 17 – four days after he allegedly left – that he had not returned.
Petito’s mother, Nichole Schmidt, reported her missing to Suffolk County Police in New York on Sept. 11. Search teams discovered Petito’s body near Wyoming's Grant Teton National Park on Sept. 19 and announced shortly thereafter that she had been the victim of a homicide.
Brian Laundrie’s remains were found on Oct. 20, 2021, in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, located in the 23-year-old’s hometown of North Port. His parents found Brian’s bag and other items while hiking with law enforcement in the area, where they had told authorities their son was known to frequent. Fox News Digital captured photos and exclusive video of the parents searching the swamp, where law enforcement officers ultimately made the grim discovery.
Laundrie was considered a fugitive and was a person of interest in Gabby Petito’s disappearance and death. The FBI had issued a warrant for his arrest on charges related to his unauthorized use of a bank card.
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Petito’s parents filed a civil lawsuit earlier this year accusing Chris and Roberta Laundrie of knowing that their son killed Gabby and attempting to help him flee.
"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 complaint further describes how Brian Laundrie is "believed" to have "murdered Gabrielle Petito" on Aug. 27, 2021.
Laundrie then sent phony text messages between his cell and Petito’s "in an effort to hide the fact" that she was dead, according to court documents and the FBI.
The complaint alleges that Laundrie confessed to his parents on Aug. 28 and that the Laundries hired lawyer Steve Bertolino, a longtime friend, on Sept. 2.
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Bertolino told Fox News Digital Friday he has represented the Laundrie family "for many years" and called the civil lawsuit "baseless."
"As I have maintained over the last several months, the Laundrie‘s have not publicly commented at my direction which is their right under the law," he said. "Assuming everything the Petitos allege in their lawsuit is true, which we deny, this lawsuit does not change the fact that the Laundries had no obligation to speak to Law Enforcement or any third-party including the Petito family. This fundamental legal principle renders the Petito’s claims to be baseless under the law."
Fox News reporter Laura Ingle contributed to this report.