When police arrived at the Ellington, Connecticut home of Connie and Richard Dabate just before Christmas in 2015 they were met with a bizarre scene. Connie had been found in the basement, shot twice with a gun Richard had recently purchased. Richard was found on the kitchen floor, partially tethered to a folding chair by one of his arms and legs and his chest covered in superficial cuts.
The story Richard described could have been ripped straight out of the script of The Strangers. According to Richard, the couple had been victims of a home invasion by a masked intruder with a “Vin Diesel voice.” Richard says he was ambushed and held captive by the camo-clad intruder. Tied to the chair in the kitchen he was found in after the intruder had overtaken him by “pressure point techniques”, the mysterious stranger then proceeded to stab him repeatedly and burn him with a blowtorch.
As Richard was enduring this brutal torture, he claims that Connie came home. Richard says he tried desperately to warn Connie to run and get help, but it was no use. The masked man met Connie at the door with his gun. Connie tried to fight off the attacker and take the gun away, a battle she sadly lost. Richard was able to break free to grab the blowtorch and turn it on the attacker, who quickly fled from the home. Richard told police that after he was sure that the ordeal was over he was able to drag himself to the phone and call 911.
A thorough investigation was conducted at the scene. Police say that after taking a dog through the home they failed to produce any evidence to support that there had been an intruder. Richard’s story was only beginning to unravel.
Details of the crime continued to change, as well as details of the couple’s relationship. On the outside Richard portrayed he and Connie as a “super couple” and often bragged to friends about their incredible sex life. But beneath the facade, the marriage was beginning to fall apart.
Richard had been having an affair and had impregnated his girlfriend. Richard told the woman that he was planning to get a divorce and the day prior to Connie’s murder police found a text message from Richard’s phone telling the woman, “I’ll see you tomorrow my little love nugget.”
Though Connie did not know about the affair, nor the baby Richard had on the way, things were beginning to lose their luster for her as well. On Connie’s phone, she had made a list titled “Why I Want a Divorce”.
If the failing relationship wasn’t enough of a motive for Richard to kill his wife, police also learned that in addition to making plans to meet with his girlfriend the day of Connie’s murder, Richard had called to inquire about Connie’s $475,000 life insurance policy just five days before she had been killed. While police had established a sufficient motive for them to suspect Richard of killing his wife, some of the evidence to support their theory would come from an unexpected source.
According to Richard, Connie had returned from the gym while the attacker was in the home. Using data collected from the Fitbit device that Connie had been wearing at the time of her murder, investigators learned that she had, in fact, walked 1,217 feet around the home during the time Richard claimed the attack had occurred. The device had also indicated that Connie’s last movement had been at 10:05 am. These discrepancies, as reported by Connie’s fitness tracking device, were enough to charge Robert Dabate with the murder of his wife. He has since pleaded not guilty to these charges.
This isn’t the first case where data collected from smart devices in the home have been used to implicate someone in a crime. In late 2016, there had been controversy over whether or not data that may have been collected from an Amazon Echo in the home of James Bates after he was suspected of murdering his friend, Victor Collins, could be obtained as evidence. Amazon was initially reluctant to hand over this data but after a number of inquests, Amazon decided to comply with the request.
With the rise in popularity of consumer smart devices that are always on and always listening, it would appear that smart devices will, in turn, become more prevalent in modern-day police investigations. NBC News reports that a staggering 90-percent of criminal investigations will now contain a digital component to the case. While the subject of ethics regarding the use of smart device data is still open for heated debate, it would seem that this information will be on the table in many criminal trials to come.