The forensic pathologist who performed independent autopsies on murder victim George Floyd and infamous sex offender Jeffrey Epstein is breaking down the significance of authorities saying that 22-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Petito was the victim of a homicide. Investigators said the precise cause of death is pending final autopsy results, but Dr. Michael Baden opined that the most likely answer is manual strangulation.
“Because if it’s strangulation, you know that it’s a homicide,” he told Law&Crime Network host Linda Kenney Baden in an interview Wednesday. “If there’s a head injury–that could be a fall or a push–they would leave it a bit open right now, so that fact that they’ve called it a homicide means that they could tell that somebody else did it.” (Linda Kenney Baden happens to be Dr. Baden’s wife).
Dr. Baden suggested that while a shooting or a stabbing or blunt force trauma are also possibilities, strangulations are most common in these types of cases.
There is no suspect yet officially speaking, but cops in North Port, Florida, consider Petito’s fiancé Brian Laundrie, 23, a person of interest. According to officers, Laundrie’s parents claim they have not seen him since Sept. 14 (he reportedly returned home on Sept. 1). The search for Laundrie is ongoing at the Carlton Reserve, a preserve known for hiking and other outdoor activities in Sarasota County, Florida.
Laundrie is not charged in Petito’s disappearance or death, but questions remain open about what exactly happened to Petito and when, where Laundrie has been and what he’s been up to this entire time, and how much investigators can use forensic evidence to zero in on the truth. Investigators are also working to answer the biggest question of all: Why?
Dr. Baden said that investigators will analyze evidence, such as that found on the body at the scene. That may include insects, which would be a sign of how long Petito lay dead in Wyoming.
The homicide determination means that authorities have ruled out other manners of death, such as suicide, accident and drug overdose, Dr. Baden said. Police will look at Petito’s van to see if there’s evidence–the most important being blood–to show that she was dead or injured before they found the victim’s body. Investigators will also look at toxicology.
Baden said investigators would already know if this was a strangulation case. Signs would be obvious even if the body were exposed for 25 days. Decomposition could hinder DNA analysis, assuming this was a strangulation, according to Baden. On top of that, the significance of finding any DNA would depend on whose it is.
“But even if it was the boyfriend’s DNA on the neck, that wouldn’t clarify anything because they’ve been together for so long,” he said. “But if there was DNA on the neck or elsewhere from a third person, that would indicate that somebody else might be involved. But it’s unlikely if there’s 25 days of decomposition in the hot sun that they would find DNA on the neck, but that’s a possibility that they would look for.”
The case caught national attention soon after Petito’s family reported her disappearance to police in Suffolk County, New York, where she grew up and met Laundrie at school. Petito’s family said that she was last on a cross-country trip with Laundrie. The couple had an extensive online presence, chronicling their trip on social media. Officers said they believe Petito was last spotted at the Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. That is where the FBI found her dead on Sunday.
Family said they last spoke to her in late August and they reported her missing Sept. 11, but cops in Florida said that Laundrie returned on Sept 1. to North Port, where he and Petito lived with his parents. Petito’s mother is not even certain on when he last actually communicated with her daughter. According to a search warrant affidavit for a hard drive in her van, mom Nicole Schmidt said she received an “odd text” on Aug. 27.
“Can you help Stan, I just keep getting his voicemails and missed calls,” her daughter purportedly wrote, according to court papers published by the New York Post.
Police say “Stan” was supposed to refer to her grandfather, but the mother told authorities that Gabby never called him by that name.
“The mother was concerned that something was wrong with her daughter,” the detective wrote.
Cops in Moab, Utah said the couple had a fight on Aug. 12, but they considered this a mental health crisis instead of a domestic incident. Officers determined Petito struck Laundrie, who grabbed her face. Laundrie told officers that she tried to grab the van keys after he suggested they should separately take talks while she took a “breather.” A distraught and tearful Petito acknowledged having anxiety and OCD.
[Screenshot via Moab Police Department]
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