- Gabby Petito’s body was identified Tuesday and her death has initially been ruled a homicide.
- Criminal justice experts said her fiancé Brian Laundrie may face the death penalty if charged with and convicted of murder.
- While several states have banned the death penalty, it’s still legal in Wyoming and Florida, where police are searching for Laundrie.
Brian Laundrie could face severe punishment if authorities bring charges against him in connection with the death of 22-year-old Gabby Petito, criminal justice experts and private investigators told Insider.
The FBI confirmed Tuesday that a body found Sunday in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest is Petito’s, and that a coroner made the initial determination that the manner of death is homicide.
Petito was first reported missing on September 11, after disappearing during a cross-country road trip with Laundrie, her fiancé. Laundrie returned home without Petito on September 1 and refused to cooperate with authorities despite desperate pleas from Petito’s family.
Laundrie himself has been missing since September 14. The North Port, Florida Police Department has said the Petito case is now a criminal investigation, although they have not charged Laundrie with any crime.
If authorities were to locate Laundrie and charge him with Petito’s murder, he could “potentially face the death penalty,” said Alfredo Garcia, a professor at St. Thomas University College of Law and a former assistant state attorney in Florida.
About half of all US states have abolished the death penalty, but it remains legal in both Wyoming and Florida. Garcia said that for Laundrie to be hit with the death penalty, authorities must first determine where the crime was committed.
“If it occurred in Wyoming,” for example, he said, “they would have jurisdiction” to go through with the death penalty there.
Harvey Morse, a private detective with Locators International in Florida, speculated that Laundrie will face either the death penalty or life in prison if he’s apprehended and tried for murder in the Sunshine State. Morse pointed to the fact that there are more than 300 people awaiting execution in Florida to demonstrate that the death penalty would be a real possibility for Laundrie.
But his disappearance complicates matters. Florida police said they have “exhausted all avenues” in a widespread search for Laundrie across the state’s “vast” Carlton Reserve.
Morse told Insider that he believes Laundrie is in hiding, and that the likelihood he may attempt suicide is “above average,” given the extent of the criminal penalties he may face and the high level of publicity that Petito’s case has received.
“I hope that this person is found, and if he is the perpetrator, he pleads guilty and doesn’t draw this case out which would cause so much pain to so many people,” Morse said.
Neighbors of Laundrie’s in North Port, Florida, find his disappearance suspicious, one resident told Insider.
“You have this beautiful young lady that’s just missing. And she’s become America’s daughter,” said Lisa Correll, who organized a vigil for Petito over the weekend. “It’s just as if it was your neighbor’s daughter.”