Gabby Petito autopsy paints grim picture of last moments


The Gabby Petito autopsy finding that she died of homicide by strangulation indicates a likelihood of domestic violence and deadly intent at the Wyoming campsite where an FBI-led investigation uncovered her remains last month, experts tell Fox News.

Her fiancé, Brian Laundrie, who shared the campsite with her before driving back to Florida alone and ultimately disappearing himself, has been named a person of interest in her death and is wanted on a federal bank card fraud warrant.

Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announced Tuesday that Petito died by “manual strangulation/throttling,” meaning she’d been killed by hand and not with an item like a rope or chain.

Dr. Dan Field, a board-certified emergency physician and an expert witness in strangulation and homicide cases, said killing someone by strangulation is a long, deliberate process.

“I [testified in] a murder case in Florida, where the defense was trying to put forth the theory that it was a moment of passion — and so the question I was asked is how long does it take for strangulation to kill somebody?” he told Fox News Digital. “The numbers are very, very specific.”

It takes roughly between 62 and 157 seconds, he said.

“And then the question the prosecution has is, does that sound like a ‘moment of passion’ — 62 seconds?” he said.

Prosecutors secured a conviction in that case.

Victims can lose consciousness within the first five to 10 seconds from when a stranglehold is applied, according to Field – from a combination of lack of oxygen, reflexes and the obstruction of blood flow. Seizure can occur between 11 and 17 seconds. By 30 seconds, they lose control of other organs.

But death takes longer.

“It is surprisingly quick, but it’s not a moment,” Field said. “It’s not a flap. It’s not the pulling of a trigger.”

And more often than not, such attacks are deliberate, he said. While the sequence of events leading to Petito’s death remains publicly unknown, Field said that statistically speaking, accidental strangulation between intimate partners is far less common than foul play.

“Unlikely, just by the numbers, unlikely to be erotic asphyxiation,” he said. However, it remains a possibility.

Prosecutors have also stopped short of charging anyone in Petito’s death, so it’s unclear what they’ll argue or try to prove in court.

“If you don’t have an eyewitness, then you’re going to have to build a circumstantial case,” Field explained. “And if the circumstances place the two of them in the same place, at the same time or near the time of her death, that’s circumstantial evidence that, he was involved in her death. Not proof — but circumstantial evidence.”

Petito’s remains were left out in the Wyoming wilderness for at least three weeks, Blue said during his news conference Tuesday. In that time, the environment and wildlife likely led to significant decomposition – but some clues may have remained in place.

One would be a broken hyoid bone in the victim’s neck, Field said. Others include bleeding within the strap muscles of the neck or damage to the carotid artery or jugular. Blue declined to elaborate on his findings, but he was confident in the official ruling of manual strangulation.

Strangulation can also be unplanned, emotional and impulsive, according to Dr. Ziv Cohen, a New York City-based criminal psychiatrist.

“Strangulation is a more intimate type of homicide, and so it generally points us in the direction of somebody certainly who knew her or who might have gotten physical with her,” he said.

Further evidence of physicality between the couple is seen in the Aug. 12 Moab police bodycam video, he added.

“We know that from the 911 callers, that Brian Laundrie was reported to be witnessed as striking her,” he said. “And we know that she admitted on the bodycam footage that she scratched him.”

Field drew a similar conclusion.

“If there’s been evidence of some interpersonal violence previously, it raises the likelihood of homicidal strangulation to a much higher degree,” he said, also bringing up the Moab incident. “So I know that there was some issues between the two. Apparently, they were fighting their way across the country in the van.”

Petito also gestured in the bodycam video toward her jawline – which Salt Lake City-based private investigator Jason Jensen said earlier this week is a red flag indicating that she had previously been grabbed by the throat.

“Any victim that’s been choked before — their natural reaction is to lower their chin to their clavicle to prevent that hand from going around their throat,” he said.

Two weeks after the Moab incident, after Laundrie flew home to Florida for a week and then returned to meet Petito again in Utah, eyewitnesses saw the couple involved in a spat with waitresses at a Jackson, Wyoming, restaurant called Merry Piglets.

Laundrie repeatedly left and returned to argue with female restaurant employees, Nina Celie Angelo and Matthew England told Fox News last month. And an upset Petito apologized for his behavior. That may have been the last time anyone saw her in public alive.

“There’s a lot of evidence, from the 911 calls, from the witnesses at Merry Piglets, and I believe there were other witnesses, that their relationship was spiraling out of control,” Cohen said. “There was conflict, verbal conflict, physical conflict, and certainly, I think that the Merry Piglets episode is significant in the sense that even other people were running afoul of Brian Laundrie.”

Five days later, he arrived at his parents’ Florida home in Petito’s van – without her. The FBI uncovered her remains at a campsite just outside Jackson on Sept. 19.

“We know that he couldn’t contain his behavior, even in a public place like a restaurant,” Cohen said. “When we shortly thereafter find her strangled to death, it does suggest a kind of intimate type of homicide, domestic abuse, type of homicide between a couple — and therefore certainly makes Brian Laundrie the main suspect.”

Additionally, details about the crime scene that have not been publicly released could be a factor in what charges, if any, prosecutors eventually seek, Cohen said.

The positioning of Petito’s body could indicate remorse or cruelty, for example.

“That, again, is circumstantial evidence,” he said. “But it could point to something that’s more suggestive of intimate partner violence.”


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