CRIME, POLICE + COURTS

Analysts say investigators ‘missed opportunities’ in Gabby Petito investigation

Oct 20, 2021, 6:57 PM | Updated: Dec 29, 2022, 12:04 pm
emotional abuse moab police petito domestic violence strangulation gabby petito investigation...
Bodycam footage from the Moab Police Department shows Gabby Petito while speaking with officers. Photo: Moab Police Department

NORTH PORT, Florida – Investigators with the FBI are confirming partial human remains were spotted in an area where they were searching for Brian Laundrie, the only person of interest in the investigation into the murder of YouTuber Gabby Petito.

Federal investigators say it’s far too soon to officially confirm if the partial remains are those of Brian Laundrie.  However, investigators found some of his personal items, like a backpack and notebook, close to the scene.  Officials say they will use “all available resources” to collect the evidence. That potentially means closing the scene to the public for the next few days.

Gabby Petito investigation: Harder than it looks

North Port Police received heavy criticism after Laundrie disappeared. He vanished less than a week before the investigation led to the remains of Gabby Petito in Wyoming’s Bridger-Teton National Forest. Would round-the-clock surveillance on Laundrie have prevented him from leaving? 

Former Salt Lake City Police Chief Chris Burbank says 24-hour surveillance is much harder than the movies make it appear to be.

“One, [there is] being undetected.  Two, the resources and you cannot restrict his movement,” Burbank said.

There are other methods to track a person of interest while police try to gather enough evidence to build a case. However, Burbank says they’re not instantly available.

“What you tend to rely on is video surveillance.  You tend to rely on tracking devices and some of those other things, which all, then, require warrants,” according to Burbank.

Was there probable cause to search Brian Laundrie?

In order to get a warrant, you need probable cause.  Former Utah prosecutor Kent Morgan says “suspicious” activity, by itself, likely won’t convince a judge to sign a warrant.  However, he believes the domestic violence call in Moab involving Gabby Petito and Brian Laundrie could arguably establish probable cause in the investigation. 

“That may lead a lot of judges to believe there’s probable cause to believe that something criminal has taken place,” Morgan said.

According to Morgan, many judges would agree to issue warrants in the case of a missing woman involved in multiple fights with her boyfriend.  He believes this was a missed opportunity to execute search warrants on the Laundrie home and possibly Laundrie, himself.

“In this case, a lot of suspicious activity adds to this, and you can go to a judge and say, ‘Judge, can I have a search warrant?’  The sooner you do that, the better off you will be,” Morgan said.

Morgan says failing to execute search warrants quickly can result in the loss of many pieces of forensic evidence.

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Analysts say investigators ‘missed opportunities’ in Gabby Petito investigation