While most people who knew them would have admitted that Connie and Richard Dabate had very different characters, they nevertheless seemed to be a happy couple.
They had been married for 12 years and lived in a colonial-style home in upmarket Ellington, Connecticut, with their sons, aged six and nine.
Connie, 39, worked as a pharmaceutical sales representative, while Dabate, a computer network administrator, was known for his offbeat humour. Connie was said to be kind, with a “sunshine” personality.
The pair were comfortably off and their home had an alarm connected to the law enforcement authorities. Two days before Christmas in 2015 the alarm sounded and police rushed to the house where they found Dabate with knife wounds, bound to a folding metal chair and lying on the kitchen floor.
An arm and one leg were tied to the chair, from which, it seemed, he’d managed to partially free himself.
Minutes later, Connie was discovered in the basement. She’d been shot in the head and abdomen. At first, the scene appeared to have been a burglary that had gone wrong. The couple’s two sons were safe at school – but their mother was dead.
A shaken Dabate told officers that he’d dropped his sons off at school before heading to work. But realising he’d forgotten his laptop, he turned back.
As he drove back, he noticed the house alarm had been triggered at about 9am, at which time Connie was at a gym class. On entering the property he heard a noise, which he assumed was the cat. Going upstairs, though, he found an intruder in the bedroom.
Dabate said the 6ft 2in masked man, who was wearing camouflage, sounded like actor Vin Diesel. He claimed the intruder threatened him with a knife and demanded the PINs for his bank cards.
The man then zip-tied Dabate to the chair and slashed at him with a box-cutter knife to force him to reveal the numbers.
In the meantime, Connie returned home and Dabate said he called out a warning, but she was chased into the basement by the intruder, who shot her dead with one of her husband’s guns.
Later, Dabate would tell her family he believed she had been running to the place he kept his guns.
As the intruder fled, Dabate managed to press the alarm’s panic button, calling 911. Concerned that an armed attacker was on the loose, a police dog was put on the intruder’s trail but failed to pick up the scent.
However, it did follow Dabate to the ambulance, where he was being treated for “superficial” wounds.
Nothing had been stolen, Dabate’s wallet was untouched and there were no signs of a struggle. And evidence from his mobile phone showed he hadn’t headed to work that morning as he’d claimed. Police soon realised his story didn’t hold up and a full investigation was launched.
Over the following months, his lies started to unravel. Police discovered Dabate had been having an affair with a friend of many years. The woman was pregnant and, eight weeks after Connie’s murder, she gave birth to his baby.
When asked about his mistress, Dabate insisted that Connie knew about the affair and that while it had caused some problems, they would work through them.
He also told investigators that Connie wasn’t able to have another baby, so they were planning on co-parenting the child together. Later, however, he admitted Connie hadn’t known about his other relationship.
On being questioned, his mistress said Dabate had told her he was getting a divorce and they would be together. He had texted her the day before Connie’s death, saying, “I’ll see you tomorrow my little love nugget.”
Most damning of all was the evidence Connie had on her wrist. At the time of her death, she had been wearing an exercise activity tracker – and it contradicted Dabate’s version of events in what became known as the “Fitbit murder case”.
He claimed Connie had been killed at about 9.05am – but she hadn’t returned home until 9.18am. In fact, her Fitbit showed that she had been calmly walking about at 9.27am and her last movement was at 10.05am.
How could she have been moving around soon after 10am if she had been shot dead by then?
The Fitbit showed that Connie had walked more than 1,200ft after arriving home, but the total distance from her car to the basement was no more than 125ft. The distances – and the timeline – simply didn’t add up.
It would take until April 2017 for Dabate to be arrested and charged with murder, tampering with evidence and making a false statement to police. He posted a $1 million bail and was able to live freely at home until his trial this year.
During the five-week hearing at Rockville Superior Court, the prosecution argued that Dabate had staged a home invasion because his life was about to unravel over his pregnant mistress. “It was a cold, methodical plan to avoid the consequences of his infidelity,” they said.
There were no signs of a break-in and nothing had been stolen. The intruder had apparently tortured Dabate and killed Connie – then walked away with nothing.
The prosecution also revealed that at the time Dabate claimed he was being attacked, he was actually browsing the internet at home, including looking up the time his wife would return from her spin class.
He had emailed his work supervisor at 9.04am from the house computer, saying his house alarm had sounded and he’d gone back to check it.
While experts for the prosecution insisted the Fitbit evidence was enough to prove Connie’s movements, the defence argued the technology wasn’t 100% accurate and pointed to the fact that unidentified DNA had been found in the Dabate home.
More than 100 witnesses and 600 pieces of evidence were presented during the trial and in May Dabate was found guilty of first-degree murder, tampering with evidence and providing a false statement.
He was handcuffed and led into custody.
At his sentencing last month, the now-46-year-old maintained his innocence and insisted his wife had been killed by an unknown person.
“I will never stop fighting for justice for my wife, Connie, who I think about every single day,” said Dabate, who plans to appeal against his sentence of 65 years in prison without the chance of parole.
Her heartbroken family described Connie as generous and caring and said her death had left her sons traumatised. They also criticised Dabate for taking her money while he was on bail, leaving nothing for the boys.
Outside the court, her family said that while sentencing had given them closure, it wouldn’t bring Connie back.
The judge described the killing as brutal and calculated and said that after listening to stories from her loved ones, she believed “the world is truly a lesser place without Connie in it”.
And her Fitbit was evidence that the devoted mum was a dead woman walking.