SALT LAKE CITY (ABC4 Utah) – A Wyoming coroner ruled that Gabby Petito was strangled to death.
Petito’s body was found in late September in the Bridger Teton National Forrest near the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.
Her fiance is the only person of interest in her death. But he remains missing. Brian Laundrie was charged last month with credit card fraud in relation to Petito’s disappearance.
The Teton County coroner deflected many questions claiming Wyoming law prevents him going beyond the cause and manner of death.
“We hereby find the cause and manner of death to be, the cause, death by strangulation and manner is homicide,” said Dr. Brent Blue of Jackson.
Ironically, during the now-infamous incident in Moab, Petito could be heard telling officers that “he like grabbed my face.” She then showed how she defended her face.
No one was charged in that incident. But Petito’s gesture and statement to police may have been something she was familiar with according to a private investigator.
“Previously if someone has previous domestic violence experience where they’ve been choked, the defense mechanism is to lower their jaw down to their clavicle and their attacker gets her by the chin,” said Jason Jensen.
After determining it was strangulation, the coroner said several experts helped him determine other factors needed in his autopsy findings.
“As far as the time of death we estimate three to four weeks from the time that the body was found,” said Dr. Blue.
The time frame falls in line when Petito was last heard from during her trip out west with Laundrie.
The coroner offered no details as to how she was strangled. But a former Utah medical examiner offered his experience with murders he’s come across.
“Strangulation can be caused manually, it can be caused by ligatures or by impression such as if someone was put in a chokehold,” said Dr. Todd Grey.
He said domestic violence and strangulations were quite common during his years at the medical examiner’s office.
“Strangulation as a method of lethal domestic violence is unfortunately not that uncommon,” Grey said.
The Wyoming coroner also said the autopsy provided DNA for law enforcement as they continue to build a criminal case.
“What I can tell you is that DNA samples were taken by law enforcement and all I can tell you about her body is that it was outside for three to four weeks,” Dr. Blue said.
Again he refused to offer further details. But the DNA most likely found in Petito’s fingernails, is crucial evidence according to Jensen. He said victim’s tend to fight off their attacker using their hands to scratch and claw their attacker.
“Brian’s DNA is going to be common whether he is the attacker or not because they lived together,” Jensen said. “His DNA doesn’t mean he is the killer but the presence of someone else’s DNA would exclude him as a possible killer.”
The attorney for Laundrie’s family did provide a statement to the public.
It said: “Gabby Petito’s death at such a young age is a tragedy. While Brian Laundrie is currently charged with the unauthorized use of a debit card belonging to Gabby, Brian is only considered a person of interest in relation to Gabby Petito’s demise. At this time Brian is still missing and when he is located we will address the fraud charge pending against him.”