Richard Dabate sentenced to 65 years in ‘Fitbit murder’ of wife
Richard Dabate, the Ellington man who was found guilty of murdering his wife in a case dubbed the “Fitbit murder,” was sentenced Thursday to 65 years in prison — a sentence that led Connie Dabate’s family to say they felt justice had finally been served after nearly seven years and prompted her 84-year-old mother to lift her hands up and smile toward the sky outside the courthouse.
Dabate was convicted by a jury in May of fatally shooting his wife and crafting a story that a camouflage-clad intruder broke into the home he shared with his wife and their two young sons, shot Connie Dabate in their basement and tied him up in their kitchen just two days before Christmas in 2015.
Prosecutors introduced weeks worth of evidence and witness testimony, pinning a fair amount of weight on data from Connie Dabate’s hip-worn Fitbit that contradicted her husband’s timeline of the alleged home invasion and evidence of his extramarital affairs, including one with a woman who was pregnant with his child at the time of the murder.
Before handing down her sentence, Judge Corinne Klatt said that Dabate was not the victim of a home invasion, but rather the perpetrator of coldblooded crimes.
Connie Dabate’s murder, she said, was “brutal, calculated and it was an incomprehensible act” that was committed “at the hands of a person who at one point vowed to love and protect her.”
State’s Attorney Matthew C. Gedansky said Thursday that Dabate’s crimes were part of “a selfish, cowardly evil plan” that Dabate plotted for months “just because he didn’t want to look bad.” The prosecutor said Dabate’s motive was his fear that his girlfriend’s pregnancy would result in Dabate’s “worst nightmare” of getting divorced, losing his house, friends and reputation and becoming a “black sheep.”
Gedansky recommended a sentence of 60 years — a length the judge ended up surpassing after family and friends of Connie Dabate begged the judge to grant their family peace of mind by keeping the 46-year-old behind bars for the rest of his life.
For more than two hours on Thursday morning, Connie Dabate’s family and friends told the Rockville Superior Court judge about the “life sentence” of grief they’re serving following Dabate’s murder.
One by one, more than 10 of her loved ones described years of anguish, anxiety, depression, panic attacks, sorrow, stress, and sleeplessness that have plagued them since Dec. 23, 2015. They implored the judge to hand down the maximum sentence; Connie’s sister, Leslie Garabedian, asked Klatt to sentence her former brother-in-law to three lifetimes in prison for the three lives she claims he stole: her sister’s and the lives of the Dabates’ two young sons who she said will endure a lifetime of anguish.
Garabedian, who with her husband has custody of the Dabate boys, 13-year-old Connor and 15-year-old RJ, said the children are still grieving the loss of their mother, are tortured by their father’s role in the crimes and are terrified of a stranger murdering them like their father told them happened to their mother.
Dabate has stuck to a story that he came home to find an intruder in an upstairs bedroom the morning of the murder. He heard his wife come home and yelled to warn her, but the intruder ran to the basement after Connie Dabate and shot her, he said.
Dabate, who has been in custody in lieu of a $5 million bond since his conviction in May, was free on bond for more than six years as he awaited trial. During that time, the family claims he spent all of the couple’s estate, which they claimed at trial was mainly earned by Connie Dabate, leaving just $6.24 for their boys to inherit.
Just after 10 a.m. Thursday, Dabate was brought into a crowded courtroom wearing tan pants, a maroon button-down shirt and ankle shackles just above his dress shoes.
Dabate, who took the stand in his own defense during his five-week trial, was often reactive as his wife’s family begged the judge to sentence him to a life behind bars. He shook his head, mouthed things like “No, I did not,” let his jaw drop and raised his eyebrows as the family made claims that, since his arrest, he had tortured them with threatening messages and a lack of remorse.
Dabate’s defense attorney, Trent LaLima, asked the judge not to consider those claims and said his team denied those things ever happened.
Klatt said she was only considering the trial and the jury’s decision when sentencing. She also addressed LaLima’s worry that the years between the crimes and the trial would be held against his client. Klatt told the court that she would never penalize a defendant for seeking their right to a trial.
LaLima asked the judge to hand down a minimum sentence with some sort of conditional release. He asked the court to consider Dabate’s lack of criminal history and compliance with conditions of his bond when handing down the sentencing, which he said should be lower than 50-60 years.
LaLima also asked the judge to consider the six years Dabate was free on bond.
“The six years he walked free awaiting trial should be considered not as some sort of gift to Mr. Dabate but as a start to the punishment,” he said.
Richard Dabate’s parents, sister and at least three other family members begged the judge for leniency in her sentencing, calling Dabate a helpful, loving, family man.
After they were finished with their brief statements, Dabate took the opportunity to speak, prefacing that he was “going to make it quick.”
He told the judge he was an innocent man who had waited years to tell his side of the story, and that he was “a victim of those who seek victory over truth.”
He said he plans to fight his conviction.
“I will never stop seeking justice for my wife Connie who I love and think of every day, and I will never stop seeking justice for myself,” he said.
During their lengthy and emotional statements, Connie’s friends and family also told the judge about the type of person she was: a devoted mother, a prankster, a positive force that encouraged her friends to look on the bright side, a best friend to her mother.
“I can’t replace Connie in your lives, if I could order that I would certainly do it,” said Klatt.
Speaking outside the courthouse after the sentencing, Connie’s loved ones — with yellow sunflowers and photos of Connie pinned to their chest — said they were relieved to hear the judge hand down a sentence that was longer than they expected.
“I was very taken aback by the sentence, 65 years, I thought that ... it was appropriate and just and I’m just glad we got what we had asked for,” said her brother, Keith Margotta.
Connie’s mother, Cindi Margotta, lifted her hands to the sky and said she felt the comfort of her daughter shining down on them.
The Dabate case was hard fought on both sides — attorneys questioned and cross examined more than 130 witnesses and introduced more than 600 pieces of evidence over a five-week period. After each side delivered impassioned closing arguments, jurors spent only a few hours deliberating before returning their verdict that same day.
Dabate’s defense team has already stated that they will appeal the conviction.
“We are confident in the end Rick Dabate will prevail,” LaLima said outside the courthouse, adding that they were disappointed in the outcome that day.
He said the next step will be the appeal, mentioning his doubts that data from Connie’s Fitbit was reliable enough to be introduced in court. Fitbits and devices like them, he said, rely on “generalized data” that he thinks should not hold up in court.
On Thursday, before the victim impact statements were read, the defense argued a few motions before Klatt, asking for a judgment of acquittal, to vacate the verdict and for a new trial.
They brought forth their concerns about the Fitbit data.
“I think without that evidence the case would likely go differently,” LaLima said in court.
LaLima also told the judge he didn’t believe there was sufficient evidence to convict his client, that the state disproved Dabate’s statements rather than proving him guilty and that prosecutors didn’t prove that he created or fabricated any evidence.
He said that certain arguments made by Gedansky, like that Dabate was “a ticking time bomb,” had “a massive, massive impact” on Dabate’s reputation with the jury and that he found some of Gedansky’s lines of questioning to be inflammatory.
Gedansky countered that the defense was making “just another attempt to re-litigate” the case and that the motions had no basis, “except for dramatic effect today and maybe personal attacks on me.”
Judge Klatt responded that there was “voluminous” evidence in the case that allowed the jury to come to a logical and reasonable conclusion that Dabate committed all the offenses.
She said Thursday that considering the trial as a whole, none of Gedansky’s behavior would have “infected the integrity of the trial.”
She denied all the motions.
In final words from the family outside the courthouse, Garabedian said that she couldn’t even fathom how she would deliver the news to her sister’s sons that their father was sentenced to 65 years. That the years-long saga was, for now, finally over. But she said that her family is close and strong and would get through it together as they have every day for nearly seven years.