On Monday, jurors finally heard testimony about the Fitbit Connie Dabate was wearing when she was murdered.
Investigators used activity tracker data to poke holes in her husband’s story that a masked intruder broke in and shot her.
During week five of the “Fitbit murder” trial of Richard Dabate, a physiologist who is a leading researcher in the science behind wearable fitness tracking technology spoke and told the jury that the type of Fitbit that Connie Dabate wore on her hip has been found to track its wearer’s step count with pinpoint accuracy.
Keith Diaz, PhD, told the jury that Fitbits — specifically the model Connie Dabate was wearing at the time of her murder — keeps a near-perfect record of how many steps a person takes.
Authorities said Connie Dabate’s Fitbit showed her moving after her husband said the intruder – described by Dabate as a tall man dressed in camouflage – shot him.
Diaz, a board-certified physiologist and assistant professor at Columbia University Medical Center, is the director of the exercise testing laboratory at the Center for Behavioral Cardiovascular Health. He has studied wearable technology, particularly different types of Fitbits, for years and was called to the stand Monday by State’s Attorney Matthew C. Gedansky. He told the jury about his research and the accuracy it revealed in Fitbit technology.
In cross-examination by Dabate’s defense attorney, Trent LaLima, Diaz also said the Fitbit, however, does not track when a person is moving at any given minute and does not keep its own time.
The time a person’s steps are taken is recorded in Fitbit data based on the device – like a smartphone or computer – they are synced to, not by the Fitbit itself.
Richard Dabate told police and his family after the murder that he returned home on the morning of December 23, 2016, after the home’s security alarm went off. He found an intruder rummaging through an upstairs closet. The man asked for his money and credit cards, Dabate handed them over, then he heard the garage and kitchen doors open.
Dabate said he thought his wife came home early from her spin class at the local YMCA. He shouted at her to run. Then he heard her head drop to the basement and said he thought she was going to grab a gun for protection.
Dabate told police and his family that he then heard the masked man follow her into the basement, where he heard a gunshot. Connie Dabate was found shot dead in the basement.
According to a warrant, Connie Dabate left the YMCA just after 9 a.m. and their garage door last opened just after 9:20 a.m.
His Fitbit shows its last movement at 10:05 a.m., Diaz said.
Before his last movement, his Fitbit showed what Diaz called “accidental” movement – he described this type of movement as the type that would be recorded if someone performed chores, not the type of data that a Fitbit would show if someone was deliberately stepping somewhere or running away from someone.
Diaz said his assessment is based on published, peer-reviewed research in which he and his colleagues studied multiple users wearing different types of wearable technology while walking, jogging, running or standing still on shoes. treadmills.
“We found the Fitbit device to be very accurate at measuring steps,” Diaz said.
The most accurate Fitbit they tested was the hip-worn model that Connie Dabate wore.
“It was really, really accurate,” he said.
Connie Dabate’s movement was more “intentional” – meaning around 60 or more steps per minute – around 8:15 to 8:34 that morning. The Fitbit registered very light footsteps around 10:05 a.m. It was his last recorded movement.
LaLima cross-examined Diaz, asking him to describe how a Fitbit works. Diaz explained that the device has crystals that move around three plains and cause a voltage that is read as acceleration or footsteps.
LaLima asked him if the device could record the number of steps a person took in seconds or just in a minute. Diaz said the data is recorded per minute, meaning someone could walk 30 steps in 10 seconds and stop moving, and the device would record that they walked 30 seconds in the surrounding 60-second window.
Diaz also told LaLima that the Fitbit itself doesn’t keep time. The time the steps are performed is tied to the time stored on the device during which the data is uploaded. If the phone or computer the device was connected to was not set to the correct time, the timing of the measurements taken would not be accurate.
On Monday, the jury also heard from Connie Dabate’s mother, Cindy Margotta of Ellington, who spoke to her daughter and son-in-law on the morning of the murder.
Margotta said Richard Dabate texted her asking if one of the couple’s young sons had left a jacket at her house. She had watched her grandsons over the weekend while the couple were in Vermont.
Her daughter, she said, called her that morning and “was stressed.”
The two were very close, Margotta said.
“I considered her a close friend and she considered me a very close friend,” the mother said. “She shared an awful lot with me, more than I think most mothers and daughters would.”
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On the morning of Dec. 23, Connie Dabate told her mother she was going to make an appointment with her therapist, Margotta told the jury Monday.
Gedansky asked Margotta if she knew why her daughter wanted to talk to her therapist — a question LaLima objected to but the judge eventually allowed.
“She said Rick was a mess,” she told Gedansky.
Dabate’s attorney asked Margotta about her conversation with her daughter that morning, asking if she told the police what she was telling the jury.
“She said Rick was a mess that morning and she wanted to see Barb [her therapist]”, Margotta said. “And then she was like, ‘I love you mom. You are my best friend.'”
It has been more than six years since Connie Dabate was killed and five years since Richard Dabate was charged in her death. He faces charges of murder, tampering with evidence and lying to the police.
He is free on $1 million bond and his trial is scheduled to continue Tuesday in Rockville Superior Court.