Gabby Petito case: Judge raises Johnny Depp’s defamation of Amber Heard during Laundrie hearing

Amber Heard’s defamation by Johnny Depp was raised in a civil court hearing to determine whether Gabby Petito’s family can sue Brian Laundrie’s parents.

Ms Petito’s parents, Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt, claim Chris and Roberta Laundrie released a misleading statement through their solicitor that their daughter was still alive despite knowing their son Brian had her already killed.

Judge Hunter W Carroll referred to the defamation decision against Mr Depp, which was due to a statement by his lawyer that Ms Heard’s abuse allegations were a “hoax”.

“Aren’t we responsible for the words we say, when we say them,” the judge asked during Wednesday’s hearing.

“Johnny Depp has just been found civilly liable for defamation for what his lawyer said, right?”

At the center of the Petito case is a September 16 statement released by Laundrie’s attorney, Steve Bertolino, as search parties scoured Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming for Ms Petito.

“On behalf of the Laundrie family, we hope that the search for Ms. Petito will be successful and that Ms. Petito will be reunited with her family,” the statement read.

Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt outside Sarasota County Circuit Court during Wednesday’s hearing

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Ms Petito’s parents claim the laundries knew where her daughter had been left and were actively helping their son evade law enforcement.

Laundries have always denied any knowledge of Ms Petito’s death. His remains were found on September 19.

Matt Luka, the laundries’ lawyer, argued that the parents had no duty or obligation to speak to law enforcement and were simply exercising their constitutional right to silence.

Judge Carroll, sitting in the Sarasota County Circuit Court, said he would issue a written ruling on whether Petito’s civil suit can go to trial within the next two weeks.

A Virginia jury awarded Ms Heard $2m (£1.6m) following her libel trial in June, while Mr Depp was awarded the much higher sum of $15m dollars (£12 million).

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito


Ms Petito and Laundrie set off in their motorhome for a trip across the country in July 2021 and had documented their trips on YouTube.

On September 1, Laundrie returned home alone to his parents.

Ms Petito’s parents reported her missing on September 11 after they were unable to contact her and Laundrie declined to say her whereabouts.

Laundrie fled days later with his family, telling police he was heading to the nature reserve near their home.

On September 19, Ms Petito’s body was found in a national park in Wyoming and her autopsy confirmed that she had been strangled to death.

A few weeks later, on October 20, Laundrie’s remains were found inside the Florida reservation.

He died by suicide from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head.

In a notebook found with his remains, he confessed to having murdered his girlfriend.

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