Thursday, December 2

What could follow in the investigation into the death of Gabby Petito

(CNN) — The death of Brian Laundrie, who authorities had said could help fill at least some of the gaps about what Gabby Petito’s last days were like, was confirmed.

Laundrie’s remains were found Wednesday on the Florida reservation that authorities had been tracking for more than a month.

During the summer, the couple embarked on a cross-country road trip, from which Laundrie returned to his North Port, Florida home only on Sept. 1, according to police. On September 11, Petito’s parents reported him missing. Laundrie, without speaking to authorities during Petito’s disappearance, left his home on September 13 and was not seen again, his parents later told police.

Petito’s remains were recovered in Wyoming on September 19. The coroner ruled that he had died from strangulation. But little else is known, at least to the public, about what led to Petito’s death.

Although authorities have not explicitly linked Laundrie to Petito’s death, they said he was one of the last people to see her alive. “Two people went on a trip and one came back,” North Port Police Chief Todd Garrison said in September.

With Laundrie dead and many questions still unanswered, here’s what experts say investigators could look to to help them answer what happened to Petito.

Scenes of the crime will be central in the investigation of the Laundrie-Petito case

One of the most important components in an investigation like this is crime scenes, said Paul Belli, retired lieutenant with the Sacramento County Sheriff’s Office and president of the International Homicide Investigators Association.

Dr. Brent Blue, a coroner for Teton County, Wyoming, said Petito died from strangulation / manual strangulation, adding that his body had likely been out in the open for about three to four weeks before he was found.

“Strangulation means that someone was strangled by human force. There was no mechanical force,” Blue told CNN.

According to Belli, investigators may be able to obtain clues about what happened – and who did it – at the crime scene, including fingerprints, depending on the condition of the human remains. The difficult thing in cases like this is that, unlike murders committed by unknown victims, when the person of interest is someone with whom the victim had a relationship, it is to be expected that their DNA will be found on the victim’s body. .

“Hopefully the DNA of one of them comes from the other,” said Belli. “But if there is DNA maybe where it shouldn’t be, that could be a kind of clue as to what might have happened.”

“So there are ways to absolutely at least get to a point where you’re like ‘Ok, this definitely makes sense, this is the person who did this crime,'” he added.

The type of crime can also help provide clues, said former federal prosecutor Neama Rahmani. Murders involving manual strangulation can often indicate “an emotional element,” Rahmani said.

Some key objects could provide answers

Investigators last week recovered personal items such as a backpack and notebook along with Laundrie’s remains. A source with knowledge of the investigation told CNN’s Randi Kaye that the notebook is “possibly salvageable.” And experts say that could offer more information.

Those objects are likely to be taken to the FBI lab, where there are “experts who actually spend their careers doing things like drying paper evidence, trying to recover writing and ink marks and potentially fingerprints and all sorts of other things. potentially relevant evidence from an article like this, “CNN’s former FBI Deputy Director and Senior Law Enforcement Analyst Andrew McCabe told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Thursday.

The notebook could potentially include information such as Laundrie’s motives, his feelings for Petito and other notes he took about events in Wyoming, McCabe added.

Investigators also obtained a search warrant last month for an external hard drive they found in Petito’s white van, the one the couple used during their trip and in which Laundrie returned to their North Port home alone. Authorities have not given details about what they found on the disc.

Finding phones in a case like this could also offer an “incredible amount of information,” Belli said. A source close to the Laundrie family told CNN last month that he left home without his wallet and without a mobile phone that he had purchased in early September. Police do not have the phone number he was carrying during the couple’s trip, nor do they have Petito’s, CNN confirmed in early October.

Lastly, the videos authorities have compiled of Laundrie and Petito could also help piece the puzzle together on the couple’s journey, and perhaps Laundrie’s journey back to Florida.

“I don’t think people realize the enormous volume of information that we now receive in each case,” Belli said. “Video, phone records … if that vehicle had any information that can be obtained with a GPS.”

Laundrie was charged with using a debit card and PIN for accounts that did not belong to him after Petito’s death, according to one indictment.

“(Authorities) probably collected videos from anywhere they were used, videos from anywhere where it could appear that (Laundrie) stopped for a while. I doubt that he drove completely in a straight line,” Belli said. “So there is a lot of additional work to do that has been in progress, most likely.”

Brian Laundrie Case: Why is the notebook that was found important? 1:21

Circumstances can help unravel the mystery

In a case like this, circumstances alone can also help shed light on the case, said former prosecutor Rahmani.

“It is a very, very strong circumstantial case,” he said. “You have a history of violence between the two of you. You have all the evidence indicating that (Laundrie) was the last person to see her alive and the manner of death, that manual strangulation, which tends to be … the majority of sometimes someone you know. “

In August, Utah authorities had an encounter with Laundrie and Petito and described them as having “been involved in some kind of altercation.” The two were described as having gotten into a physical fight after an argument, but both reported that “they are in love and engaged to be married and did not desperately want anyone to be charged with a crime,” according to an officer’s report. . Police body camera footage showed Petito crying uncontrollably as he spoke to police.

“We have someone who did not report the disappearance of his fiancĂ©e when he returned without her, we have someone who fled,” Rahmani added.

And in an interview Thursday, Steven Bertolino, the Laundrie family’s attorney, said Laundrie was “heartbroken” and seemed upset when he left his family home in mid-September.

Laundrie’s parents knew their son was “grieving, they knew he was very upset and, you know, they couldn’t control him leaving and leaving, ‘” Bertolino told CNN affiliate WABC.

Experts have questioned what the Laundrie family may know about what happened to Petito.

“Did they help him escape? Did they help destroy evidence?” Palm Beach County, Florida, state attorney Dave Aronberg told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer show Friday night. “What did they know?”

Although with Laundrie’s passing it may be more difficult to find the answers that both investigators and families hoped for, there is still a lot that can be done in the investigation of Petito’s murder, Belli said. She noted that it could remain an open case for some time if authorities are unable to say for sure that they know who killed her.

“I mean the closing is really ‘he did it or he didn’t’, that’s going to be the general feeling based on my experience,” he said.

“Investigators,” he added, “I guarantee they feel a great need to provide the truth, whatever that truth may be, to both parts of the family. That’s really what we do as investigators, find all the facts and expose the truth.” .

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