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

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

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

Ms Petito’s parents Joseph Petito and Nichole Schmidt allege that Chris and Roberta Laundrie released a misleading statement through their lawyer that their daughter was still alive when they knew their son Brian had already killed her.

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

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

“Johnny Depp just got found civilly liable for defamation for what his attorney said, right?”

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

“On behalf of the Laundrie family it is our hope that the search for Ms Petito is successful and that Ms Petito is reunited with her family,” the statement read.

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

(Court TV)

Ms Petito’s parents allege that the Laundries knew where her daughter had been left, and were actively helping their son evade law enforcement.

The Laundries have consistently denied any knowledge about Ms Petito’s death. Her remains were found on 19 September.

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

Judge Carroll, sitting in the Sarasota County Circuit Court, has said he will issue a written ruling on whether the Petito’s civil claim can proceed to trial in the next two weeks.

A jury in Virginia awarded Ms Heard $2m (£1.6m) at the conclusion of their defamation trial in June, while Mr Depp was given the far larger amount of $15m (£12m).

Brian Laundrie and Gabby Petito


Ms Petito and Laundrie set off in their campervan on a cross-country trip in July 2021 and had been documenting their travels on YouTube.

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

Ms Petito’s parents reported her missing on 11 September after they couldn’t get in contact with her and Laundrie was refusing to say where she was.

Laundrie went on the run days later with his family telling police he was heading into the nature reserve close to their home.

On 19 September, Ms Petito’s remains were found in a Wyoming national park with her autopsy confirming that she had been strangled to death.

Weeks later on 20 October, Laundrie’s remains were found inside the Florida reserve.

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

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

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