Gabby Petito's parents now have a copy of a "burn after reading" letter written to her fiancé and killer, Brian Laundrie, by his mother, which reportedly included references to getting a shovel and burying a body, CNN reports.
Attorneys for both families argued whether the letter was relevant in an ongoing civil lawsuit filed by Petito's parents against Laundrie's parents, as well as the attorney who had previously represented them, in a Sarasota County, Florida, courtroom on Wednesday (May 24). The undated letter was held inside an envelope that stated "burn after reading" and found inside Laundrie's backpack when authorities located his remains in October 2021.
“As we all know the letter references burying a body bringing a shovel and burying a body,” said Patrick Reilly, who represents the Petito family, in court Wednesday via CNN. “Those are criminal acts, by the way, that Roberta Laundrie has said she would commit.”
Joseph Petito and his ex-wife, Nichole Schmidt, filed the civil lawsuit against Roberta and Chris Laundrie accusing the couple of being aware that Brian murdered Gabby and planned to help him evacuate the country. Witnesses in Utah, where the couple was stopped for an alleged domestic violence incident during their cross-country roadtrip, told police that they saw Laundrie -- believed to have later strangled and bludgeoned Petito to death in the Bridger-Teton National Forest several weeks prior to his own death -- hitting the 22-year-old in public.
Officers made contact with the couple near Arches National Park, but no charges were filed, despite a Utah statute that requires police to make an arrest or issue a citation in relation to potential domestic incidents. The amended lawsuit accused Pratt of willful misconduct, as well as the Moab Police Department of failing to implement a "lethality assessment protocol" in adherence with the state statute.
Petito, who appeared to be visibly shaken while speaking to police, told officers that Laundrie had grabbed her face while gesturing toward her neck, but authorities deemed her to be the aggressor and didn't appear to view Laundrie as a potential suspect at the time, despite witnesses calling 911 alleging that he had hit her in public. On September 30, 2021, police released bodycam footage which showing Petito telling an officer that an argument with Laundrie got physical on August 21, 2021.
Officers pulled over the van Laundrie and Petito were traveling in on their cross-country trip and Petito told officers that she initially slapped Laundrie before he retaliated.
"I guess, but I hit him first," Petito said when asked by an officer if Laundrie hit her in the face.
"Where did he hit you? Don’t worry. Just be honest," the officer asked.
"Well, he grabbed my face," Petito said.
"Did he slap your face? Or what?" the officer responded.
"Well like, yeah he grabbed me with his nail, and I guess that’s why I definitely have a cut right here because I can feel it when I touch it, it burns," she said, while holding her jaw and crying.
The video then shows Laundrie recanting his side of the incident.
"She gets really worked up, and when she does she swings, and she had her cellphone in her hand, so I was just trying to push her away," Laundrie said.
The Parker & McConkie law firm, which represents Petito's parents in the lawsuit, also shared a selfie taken by Gabby in which she appears to have blood, swelling and visible marks on her face just prior to the traffic stop. On October 12, 2021, Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue -- who performed an autopsy on Petito -- announced her death was ruled as a death by strangulation and the manner of death to be a homicide during a press conference.
Laundrie, the lone person of interest in connection to Petito's disappearance and death, was discovered weeks later at the Carlton Reserve campsite near his family's Florida home and confirmed to have died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, his family's attorney, Steve Bertolino, confirmed to TMZ. Dr. Blue said Petito's death is believed to have occurred 3-4 weeks prior to her remains being found on September 19, 2021 and confirmed to match her days later.
Dr. Blue confirmed the ruling was made while working alongside local and federal authorities. No other information will be released in adherence with state law. Laundrie was the center of a publicized search by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and local authorities at the Carlton Reserve prior to his remains being discovered.
Police later confirmed that a confession letter written by Laundrie was also found. Petito's parents had previously been rewarded $3 million in relation to a wrongful death lawsuit against Laundrie's parents in November 2022, CNN reported at the time.