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Gabby Petito’s parents were in court Wednesday for the first time since filing a lawsuit against the parents of their slain daughter’s fiancé Brian Laundrie, accusing his parents of helping conceal Gabby’s murder.
But the Laundries opted to skip out on the hearing themselves.
Chris and Roberta Laundrie, who were not legally required to attend the Florida court proceeding, did not appear in person or virtually during the hearing, which was held to determine whether the civil lawsuit will move forward, People reports.
The Laundries’ attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the lawsuit, arguing that they were under no obligation to speak out or share what they knew about Petito’s disappearance with her family—even as Nichole Schmidt and Joe Petito were desperately searching for the 22-year-old.
Gabby disappeared in August during a cross-country trek with Brian to visit the nation’s national parks. Her body was found the next month in Grand Teton National Park, weeks after Brian had returned home to Florida without her.
A coroner would later determine she had been strangled to death.
Brian disappeared himself just days before the body was found. His remains were discovered in October in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park not far from his home. He died from a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head, leaving behind a notebook that the FBI said claimed responsibility for Gabby’s death.
In March, Gabby’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against Chris and Roberta Laundrie alleging that they knew their son had killed Gabby, but remained silent for weeks as search efforts ramped up.
Rather than provide any information, the lawsuit, obtained by Oxygen.com, alleges that the Laundries “acted with malice or great indifference” by choosing to spend the time while Gabby was missing taking a family camping trip. It also accuses them of “making arrangements for (Brian) to leave the country.”
“Christopher Laundrie and Roberta Laundrie exhibited extreme and outrageous conduct which constitutes behavior, under the circumstances, which goes beyond all possible bounds of decency and is regarded as shocking, atrocious, and utterly intolerable in a civilized community,” the suit alleges.
In court Wednesday, the Laundries’ attorney Matthew Luka argued that “everybody has the right to their private enclave,” according to CNN.
“They don’t have to come and affirmatively state everything they know about everything,” he said. “That’s just not the way our society works. It’s not how the Constitution works. People are protected until they’re not.”
Attorney Steven Bertolino, who also represents the Laundrie family, referred to the lawsuit as “baseless” and said the family had just been asserting the rights provided to them under the First Amendment.
"They did what most people would and should do," he said, adding that the couple may not have even known that Gabby had died.
The Petito’s family attorney argued that the lawsuit isn’t trying to infringe on the Laundrie’s first amendment rights but is “seeking damages for their conduct.”
Circuit Court Judge Hunter Carroll said Wednesday that he will make a decision about whether to dismiss the civil suit in the next few weeks, ABC News reports.
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