VENICE, Fla. — The parents of Gabby Petito appeared in court Wednesday in Sarasota County for a hearing over an upcoming civil suit.
Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt are suing for damages resulting from the death of Gabby, ostensibly at the hands of Brian last year. They accuse Chris and Roberta Laundrie of knowingly concealing facts about Brian's guilt and further lying to them about Brian's whereabouts when authorities sought to question him.
The Laundries are trying to get the case thrown out; if unsuccessful, a jury trial is set to begin in August 2023.
The hearing began at 1:30 p.m. and wrapped up around 2:45 p.m.
The Laundries did not appear in court. Their lawyer made a point to separate the attorney's statement about the hope for Petito's safety in a search from the Laundries themselves - emphasizing that they are two separate entities.
However, Petito and Schmidt's lawyer asserted that the attorney's statement was on behalf of the Laundries. Petito and Schmidt's lawyer said that, since the Laundries supposedly knew about Petito's murder and the location of her body, they were giving the Petito and Schmidt false hope by making a statement that they hoped Gabby Petito could be reunited with her family.
The judge repeatedly asked about the legal duty that the Laundries had to volunteer any information they had to Schmidt and Petito.
The Laundries' lawyer stated that they had no legal obligation to speak up to Schmidt and Petito, since no one was compelling them to speak (i.e. with specific questions).
Petito and Schmidt's lawyer emphasized the long relationship that the Laundries had with Petito and Schmidt. He called attention to the emotional distress that the Laundrie's silence added for Petito and Schmidt.
After the judge heard both sides, he dismissed the court for the day.
Petito and Schmidt believe Gabby Petito was killed on or around Aug. 27, 2021, the last day anyone had communication from the 22-year-old woman.
Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie had been in the middle of a cross-country trip Petito was sharing on social media in the hopes of becoming a "travel influencer."
Petito's parents believe Brian Laundrie strangled her to death, then left the body to later be discovered at the Spread Creek campsite in Wyoming.
They claim Laundrie sent texts pretending to be Petito in an attempt to explain her whereabouts before he returned to the his parents' North Port home on Sept. 1 in Gabby Petito's van.
From this point onward, Petito and Schmidt claim that the Laundrie family went on vacation, knowing where their daughter's body was located, that Brian Laundrie had caused Gabby Petito's death, and that her distraught family was seeking information.
They point to a Sept. 14 statement in which Chris and Roberta express, through their attorney, "hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful." A reply letter in which they implore the Laundries for more information about what they know went unanswered.
Petito and Schmidt claim the Laundries kept Brian Laundrie's whereabouts after Petito's death a secret. Laundrie's skeletal remains were found in late Oct. in the Carlton Reserve. An autopsy showed he died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
Chris and Roberta Laundrie have filed past motions to dismiss the case which were rejected.
Their attorneys maintain Petito's parents' claims are theoretical at best and prove no actual intent to cause additional suffering.
"By using terms such as 'increase' and 'prevent' to describe how the Laundries caused the distress, the Amended Complaint fails to satisfy the necessary element that the severe emotional distress would not have occurred absent the Laundries' silence," their lawyers write in a reply to the complaint.
The Laundries maintain they were exercising a Constitutional right not to speak with Petito and Schmidt. "They acted by choice, not by right," their attorneys say.