Can Brian Laundrie be tried after death? Two popes and a gunslinger, posthumous trials are rare
CARLTON RESERVE, FLORIDA: The Gabby Petito mysterious disappearance and murder case appears to have come to a tragic but inevitable end as her fiance Brian Laundrie has been confirmed to be dead. Following a month-long search, his remains were discovered at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park, Carlton Reserve in his home state Florida. The only 'person of interest' and an unofficial suspect in Gabby Petito's murder, Brian Laundrie had been missing since September 17, 2021. He also had an arrest warrant out in his name for using Petito's debit card to make unauthorized withdrawals of more than $1,000.
However, Brian Laundrie's unprecedented death brings us to the most important question — can he be tried for his crimes even after death?
Posthumous trials are exceedingly rare and only used in exceptional cases. The most famous of these are the trials of Pope Boniface VIII, Pope Formosus, Joan of Arc and the notorious gunslinger Henry Plummer.
Earlier, legal experts suggested that in the unlikely case that Brian Laundrie is never found, he could be tried and convicted in absentia, only if he had fled after an arrest. The 1993 Supreme Court ruling in Crosby v United States “prohibits the trial in absentia of a defendant who is not present at the beginning of trial". However, now that he has been confirmed dead, some wonder what would happen to the Gabby Petito murder investigation and consequent trial of Brian Laundrie.
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While Brian Laundrie's family has been widely vilified in mainstream media and on the internet, no official criminal charges have been brought against them. The popular belief exists that Christopher and Roberta Laundrie were aware of what exactly happened with their son's fiancee Gabby Petito. But, they would not face any implications without a solid criminal charge.
If, however, it is found that the Laundries aided their son after an arrest warrant was issued in his name, they would be facing charges for aiding and abetting a fugitive. This is highly unlikely given the state of decomposition found in Brian's body, which indicates he might have been dead long before the arrest warrant was out in his name.
The investigation of Gabby Petito's death can still be continued to identify her murderer and bring them to trial if the individual is someone other than Brian Laundrie. The accused need to be found alive and arrested before they can be tried in court.
Meanwhile, in the case of Brian Laundrie himself, he COULD NOT be tried for murder posthumously. According to the basics of US law, "a defendant in a trial must be available to mount a legal defense." Since Brian Laundrie was unavailable to stand trial in court for the charges against him, he cannot be tried and convicted.
Questions still remain around the cause of death of Brian Laundrie, which will help direct the course of Gabby Petito's murder investigation. The police and FBI are yet to update any details on Brian Laundrie's autopsy and postmortem investigation.