Brian Laundrie‘s parents, Christopher and Roberta Laundrie, could face jail time if they are charged with being an “accessory” or “obstruction of justice” following the death of his fiancée, Gabby Petito, Florida-based attorney John M. Phillips exclusively tells In Touch.
“Lying becomes accessory or obstruction of justice,” Phillips explains.
Although Phillips is not handling the Petito-Laundrie case, he says it’s important to note that “Brian’s parents don’t have a duty to cooperate [with authorities] but once they do, they could be charged with obstruction of justice or lying to police if they know about where Brian is or if he told them he killed Gabby, or if they helped him escape.”
On September 21, authorities announced the body found in Grand Teton National Park was identified as missing 22-year-old Petito. She had been on a cross-country trek with Brian to document their “van life” adventures on social media, but never returned home after he came back to Florida alone in their 2012 Ford Transit van on September 1.
After Brian’s return to Florida, William and Charlene Guthrie, who live in the same neighborhood as the Laundries, claimed they saw the family load up their new camper and leave town for the weekend. The presumed trip occurred about a week after Brian returned home without Gabby. His parents later returned home with Brian, and he was last seen on September 14, three days after Petito’s family reported her missing and one day before he became a person of interest in her disappearance. It’s reported that Brian last told his parents he was going on a hike before his own disappearance, but the Laundries have since amended the date of Brian’s alleged disappearance.
“The Laundries were basing the date Brian left on their recollection of certain events,” their family attorney, Steven Bertolino, previously told In Touch in a statement. “Upon further communication with the FBI and confirmation of the Mustang being at the Laundrie residence on Wednesday, September 15, we now believe the day Brian left to hike in the preserve was Monday, September 13.”
“Chris and Roberta Laundrie do not know where Brian is,” Bertolino said in a separate statement at the time. “They are concerned about Brian and hope the FBI can locate him. The speculation by the public and some in the press that the parents assisted Brian in leaving the family home or in avoiding arrest on a warrant that was issued after Brian had already been missing for several days is just wrong.”
Phillips, who serves as Tiger King star Joe Exotic’s attorney and specializes in personal injury, wrongful death and civil rights cases, points out that if Chris and Roberta did have any knowledge about their son’s whereabouts or involvement, “Florida has an exemption for close family members.” The exemption says that parents won’t be charged with “accessory after the fact,” according to Phillips. “Florida is unique in that respect.”
However, in the case Roberta and Chris are not charged with accessory after the fact, it “doesn’t mean they won’t be charged federally,” Phillips tells In Touch.
“If they lie, they might face a charge, so every step they [take] to help him get away with this the more likely it is that they will face a charge, whether it’s accessory under Florida law or obstruction of justice under federal [law],” Phillips adds.
“The accessory after the fact on a capital murder or first-degree felony would be 15-30 years maximum,” says Phillips. “This case gets into so many different jurisdictions, but the parents could use the Florida exemption to wiggle out of the crime. However, the feds are going to look at this as an interstate, crossing multiple jurisdictions of murder, if in fact it is a murder and cover-up, they have jurisdictions that exceeds Florida and could get around that exemption.”
Federal and state officials now have information from forensic reports such as the “medical examiners report which reveals not only [Petito’s] cause of death, but signs of her last moments alive, any struggle and fighting to survive,” Phillips tells In Touch. “Every fact is a puzzle piece to figure out what happened.”
Reporting by Natalie Posner
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