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Judge expects to have decision in Petito family civil suit within two weeks

Joseph Petito, Nicole Schmidt and their attorney, Patrick Reilly, were in a Venice courtroom...
Joseph Petito, Nicole Schmidt and their attorney, Patrick Reilly, were in a Venice courtroom June 22.(WWSB)
Published: Jun. 22, 2022 at 3:04 PM EDT|Updated: Jun. 23, 2022 at 7:50 AM EDT
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SARASOTA, Fla. (WWSB) - A circuit court judge will decide within the next two weeks if the civil suit filed against the family of Brian Laundrie will go forward.

Lawyers for the parents of Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie appeared in Sarasota County Court to discuss a motion to dismiss the suit.

The civil lawsuit alleges Christopher and Roberta Laundrie knew their son had killed their daughter and said nothing; and were conspiring to help him flee. It asks for damages for pain and suffering, accusing the couple of acting “with great malice or great indifference to the rights of Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt.”

“That says a lot, they knew she was deceased,” Patrick Reilly, attorney for the Petito family, said after the hearing. “They knew where her body was located and they had the audacity to express a hope that she would be reunited with her family.”

The attorneys for the Laundrie’s want to have this lawsuit thrown out, saying it’s baseless. “Their First Amendment right which allows them to speak freely or to not speak at all,” said Matthew Luka. “Their Fifth Amendment privilege which allows them to not speak in any situation that can potentially incriminate them.”

Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, who were present at the hearing, filed the suit after their daughter, Gabby Petito, was murdered in Wyoming. Gabby’s family was present for the court proceedings. The Laundries did not attend.

Gabby and her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, were on a cross-county journey last year, documenting the trip on social media, when Gabby suddenly disappeared Aug. 25, 2021. Brian returned home -- alone -- to North Port with Gabby’s vehicle.

In September, Petito’s body was found in a remote area in a national park in Wyoming. The cause of death was ruled to be strangulation.

Brian Laundrie disappeared Sept. 17, 2021. His remains were eventually found in Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park near his home, and the cause of death was ruled as a self-inflicted gunshot wound.

The suit claims the Laundries’ refusal to divulge any information about their daughter’s death “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 suit also contends that the Laundries concealed that their son had confessed to the murder from investigators and Petito’s parents while the search for Gabby was ongoing, intentionally inflicting emotional distress.

“In doing so, Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie acted with malice or great indifference to the rights of (Gabby’s parents) Joseph Petito and Nicole Schmidt,” the lawsuit claims, adding that this conduct was “shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community.”

The lawsuit adds that the Laundries were “making arrangements for him (Brian) to leave the country.”

Bradenton resident Andra Griffin was in the courtroom. “They never got justice for their daughter,” she told ABC7. “The more you peel back the layer of onion related to what transpired in the Laundrie side of the situation, it’s unfair and it’s so disrespectful, so disheartening.”

Meanwhile, Reilly says it continues to be very emotional and a difficult time for Gabby’s parents. “They’re handling this the best they can,” he said. “There were some tears earlier today when we came in here and I suspect there likely will be some more tears.”

Nichole Schmidt was seen wiping away tears during the hearing Wednesday. A necklace holding Gabby’s ashes could be seen around her neck.

Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll said will have a final decision on this lawsuit through a written order within two weeks.

“I thought it went as expected, we definitely appreciate the judge’s time and his consideration of this case,” said Luka. “I know it’s important to both families.”

The lawsuit seeks damages of at least $30,000. If the case is not dismissed, a jury trial has been set for the week of Aug. 14, 2023.

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