A Florida hearing on whether Brian Laundrie’s parents should hand over a controversial “burn after reading” letter to the parents of his murdered former fiancée Gabby Petito as part of a civil lawsuit stemming from the travel blogger’s 2021 strangling in Wyoming kicked off Wednesday.
Chris and Roberta Laundrie have not been charged with a crime in connection with Petito’s death. But in the civil suit, they asked the court to deny the Petito family’s request for a copy of the letter, which mentions Roberta offering to lend her son a shovel.
Attorneys for Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, want the letter turned over as part of discovery in the lawsuit, which alleges the Laundries knew about Petito’s death before her remains were found and attempted to help their son flee justice.
After months of disputes over the letter, a Sarasota County judge scheduled the hearing for Wednesday afternoon. The judge is also considering motions from the defense to dismiss the case.
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“I don’t feel comfortable summarizing the letter,” Pat Reilly, the lawyer for Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, told Fox News Digital earlier this year. “The content is very specific and best read when available. If my belief as to the time it was written is accurate, it shows that at least Roberta Laundrie knew of Gabby’s murder before Gabby’s body was located.”
Roberta’s letter was undated, he added, but “the content of the letter seems to indicate that it was written after Gabby’s death.”
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Attorneys for the Laundrie family have argued it was written months earlier, before the couple left on a cross-country tour of national parks, and unrelated to Petito’s death.
“While I used words that seem to have a connection with Brian’s actions and his taking of Gabby’s life, I never would have fathomed the events that unfolded months later between Brian and Gabby would reflect the words in my letter,” Roberta Laundrie wrote in an affidavit filed in a Sarasota court in March.
She sought to explain the context of the letter, saying it was inspired by children’s books “The Runaway Bunny” and “Little Bear” and a writing exercise book she said Petito gave her son called “Burn After Writing.”
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“Brian, Gabby and I often joked about this book and the importance of being able to express yourself,” she wrote of the latter.
Embarrassing ideas could be burned away, she argued.
“In some way, I did not want anyone else to read it as I know it is not the type of letter a mother writes to her adult son and I did not want to embarrass Brian,” she wrote. “That is why I wrote ‘Burn After Reading’ on the envelope, and I knew that Brian would know what that meant. I am now appreciative that he actually kept it.”
The lawsuit alleges that Laundrie, his parents and their lawyer knew Petito was dead at the time of a Sept. 14 statement Laundrie attorney Steve Bertolino released to the media, which reads, in part, “On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Miss Petito is successful and that Miss Petito is re-united with her family.”
Her remains would be discovered on Sept. 19 at a campsite near Jackson, Wyoming. where she was last seen alive. Brian Laundrie allegedly killed her around Aug. 28.
Fox News Digital was first to report that weeks earlier the couple was involved in a public domestic spat in Moab, Utah, in which police were called but ultimately no charges were filed.
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“Officers conducted an investigation and determined that insufficient evidence existed to justify criminal charges,” former Moab Police Chief Bret Edge told Fox News Digital at the time.
Fox News Digital was present in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park near the Laundrie family home in North Port, Florida, when authorities found his remains on Oct. 20, 2021.
According to the FBI, Laundrie died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Near his decomposed remains, they found a handwritten suicide note and confession preserved in a dry bag and other personal affects.
In the note, first published by Fox News Digital, Brian Laundrie declared, “I ended her life.“
“I thought it was merciful, that it is what she wanted, but I see now all the mistakes I made,” he wrote. “I panicked. I was in shock.”