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Crime News Domestic Violence

Gabby Petito's Parents Lobby For ‘Lethality Assessments’ To Tackle IPV Homicide In Utah

The bill would require Utah law enforcement officers use an 11-item questionnaire to evaluate the risk of intimate partner violence between couples. 

By Jax Miller
The Gabby Petito Case, Explained

The parents of murdered woman Gabby Petito joined lawmakers when a bill aimed at changing how police respond to domestic violence calls was passed through the senate.

Joe Petito and Nichole Schmidt were in Salt Lake City on Monday when the Utah Senate unanimously approved SB0117, a bill aimed to improve how police respond to cases of intimate partner violence by using “lethality assessments,” according to NBC Salt Lake City affiliate KSL-TV.

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Todd Weiler, the bill would require that law enforcement officers in Utah implement an 11-question protocol to better evaluate the likelihood of violence and/or death between partners by examining the suspect’s history and predisposition to violence.

“It is a proud moment to be here, and I thank everyone for the hard work that you did and the way that you voted today,” Joe Petito said on Monday. “That was awesome… but it’s not just about the bill, alright.”

RELATED: Eerie Video Shows Last Time Gabby Petito Was Seen Publicly With Fiancé Brian Laundrie

Petito said lethality assessments are only “the first step in the way of helping these individuals that find themselves in a situation,” according to KSL-TV.

Mandated lethality assessments would be new to Utah if the bill is passed. However, they’ve long been established in other states, fashioned from Maryland’s Lethality Assessment Program model (LAP), created in 2003. In Virginia, for example, the questionnaire includes whether the suspect owns firearms, has ever cut off the victim’s oxygen supply, or controls the victim’s daily activities, according to the Laurel Center for Domestic and Sexual Violence.

Gabby Petito's mother, Nichole Schmidt, speaks during a news conference

In states that already have lethality assessments in place, the model can also be utilized by other local professionals, including members of the clergy, court officials, and domestic violence workers, according to Virginia’s Attorney General.

Currently, only half of Utah utilizes lethality assessments on a voluntary basis and is not required by law enforcers, according to Fox Salt Lake City affiliate KSTU.

Petito and Schmidt argued such a protocol could have prevented the death of their daughter, Gabby Petito, whose disappearance — and murder — captured the national spotlight.

In August 2021, Moab police stopped the 22-year-old New York woman and her fiancé, 23-year-old Brian Laundrie, who were driving cross-country by van and documenting their adventures online. Widely-circulated police body cam footage showed a visibly-distressed Gabby shortly after she and Laundrie had an altercation.

Gabby admitted to officers that Laundrie had hit her, but soon started blaming herself, saying she, too, became physical.

Police responded by separating the couple rather than investigating the matter further, classifying it as a mental health matter as opposed to a case of domestic violence — deeming Petito the primary aggressor.

One month later, Gabby was found strangled to death in Wyoming’s Grand Teton National Park.

Laundrie, the sole suspect in Gabby’s homicide, took his own life after returning to his Florida hometown a short time later.

“Every state needs to do this,” Schmidt said of the lethality assessments, according to KSTU. “And we will fight and go wherever we can to keep helping get this bill passed."

Gabby Petito’s parents were joined by Utah Lt. Gov. Deidre Henderson, who was instrumental in helping SB0117 be passed, largely due to the murder of her cousin, Mandy Mayne.

Body cam footage of the officer interviewing Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie

Mayne, 34, was killed in a murder-suicide in August 2022, as perpetrated by her ex-husband, Taylor Martin, according to KSL-TV. Henderson said Matin’s lengthy history of domestic violence could have signaled escalating violence if noted during lethality assessments.

“There’s a long history here of things that were caught, things that were not caught, dots that were not connected,” Henderson maintained.

Mayne’s father, Kent Mayne, was also present when the bill was approved, KSTU reported.

“She was afraid of her abuser,” said Mr. Mayne. “And she was worried something might happen, but I don’t think she [understood] completely the threat she was under.”

Petito’s parents agreed.

“I know, in Gabby’s case, if [lethality assessments] had been used, I believe she would still be here today,” said Schmidt. “We are proud to be here. We know she’s not coming back, and we can’t save Gabby or Mandy. But… we represent them, and we hope that [lethality assessments] can save more lives, and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Currently, 734 law enforcement agencies, 187 domestic violence programs, and 39 states use lethality assessments, according to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence.

“We urge leaders throughout Utah and the nation to take this important step and continue this vital work,” Joe Petito stated, according to CBS Salt Lake City affiliate KUTV. “We are grateful to honor Gabby’s legacy by working to support this and all efforts to protect victims, save lives, and end domestic violence.”

In November, Schmidt and Petito filed a $50 million wrongful death suit against Moab police for how they handled the domestic violence incident.

SB0117 will now head to Utah’s House Of Representatives.