Fitbit data used in murder investigation
In November 2015, Connie Dabate was murdered in her home. Her husband, Richard Dabate, told police that a man who looked and sounded like Vin Diesel had attacked him, left him incapacitated, and shot his wife. The Fitbit on Connie Dabate’s wrist told a different story, however.
Connecticut police pulled together a variety of digital data, from text messages to browsing history, to build their case. However, it was information from the fitness tracker that helped them to construct an actual timeline of events, and led to the eventual arrest of Richard Dabate for the murder of his wife.
According to the Hartford Courant, Richard Dabate told authorities he’d driven home in the morning after receiving a notification on his phone, telling him that a panic alarm had been set off. He was alleged to have emailed his boss from the side of a road, saying he’d be late into the office. He reached his house at around 09:00, found the intruder “looking through things” in his closet, and was set upon before his wife was shot.
But according to Connie Dabate’s Fitbit data, she was still taking steps up until 10:05, around an hour after she was supposed to be dead according to Richard Dabate.
A “wide array of digital footprints” was pieced together to show that a panic alarm had indeed been set off, but not until 10:11 – activated from Richard Dabate’s own key fob.
Email and browsing history records also showed that Richard Dabate had emailed his boss, but at 09:04 and from his laptop, not his phone. This was followed at 09:18 with a search for the schedule of the Indian Valley YMCA, where Connie Dabate was attending a class – hence the Fitbit.
A mixture of video surveillance footage and Fitbit data showed Connie Dabate leaving the YMCA at 09:18, and then driving home. She even posted two videos and a message on Facebook between 09:40 and 09:46 – again, after Richard Dabate alleges she had been shot – and only stopped moving at 10:05.
“To say it’s rare to use Fitbit records would be safe. It’s an electronic footprint that tracks your movements,” local district attorney Craig Stedman told the Hartford Courant. “It is a great tool for investigators to use. We can also get the information much faster than some other types of evidence such as DNA tests.”
After working through the couple’s full digital history, police eventually uncovered a story involving a pregnant mistress, infertility, arguments over divorce, cable sports packages, attempts to cash-in on a life insurance policy and stolen money spent on motel rooms and strip clubs. Enough to give the Coen brothers a headache. Richard Dabate is currently awaiting trial.
It isn’t the first time an interconnected device has become centre stage in a murder case. In March this year, data from an Amazon Echo was called on as evidence, with the accused murderer hoping that audio records relating to music playback will prove his innocence.