VERNON —Two points stood out in a busy 12th day of the trial against Richard Dabate — an unknown person’s DNA was located on the gun that was used to kill Richard Dabate’s wife, Connie, and gunshot residue was found on Dabate’s right hand and clothing.
Testimony about the DNA came first, from Dr. Angela Przech, a forensic examiner at the state forensic lab.
Przech testified that four swabs were taken from Dabate’s handgun, which he said an intruder used to shoot Connie. Her tests determined that the handle of the gun contained a mixture of Dabate’s DNA, and another person who wasn’t any of the “known” profiles.
Those known profiles initially included Richard and Connie Dabate and a contractor who had worked at their home in the past. In the following years she received more profiles to compare from a number of state police, first responders, and others who’s DNA could be present. They were all eliminated as contributors, Przech said.
Unknown DNA was also found on the gun’s cylinder latch, and Connie’s DNA couldn’t be eliminated from the sample taken from that spot. That means her profile was partially there, Przech explained.
Another test was conducted on the door knobs of the Dabates’ master bedroom closet. The test on the interior knob was undetermined, but the exterior knob contained a low-level DNA profile that didn’t include any of the “known” profiles she had.
Dabate told state police during an interview on the day his wife was killed that he arrived home to find an intruder in his bedroom closet.
Other items tested for DNA included a basement window, the chair Dabate was found tied to, Dabate’s shirt, and nail clippings taken from Connie’s body.
Prosecutor Matthew Gedansky followed up Przech’s testimony by calling a supervisor at the forensic lab, Carll Ladd.
Over his nearly 30 years in the industry, a lot has changed, Ladd said. One of the biggest changes has been the gradual, consistent increase in the sensitivity of DNA testing. That has made DNA more useful in criminal investigations, but it has also increased the worry about contamination throughout the process of collection and testing, he said.
In response to a question from Gedansky, Ladd said finding mixtures of DNA on objects is very common because DNA can persist for years. He agreed it was possible that DNA could have remained on the gun from before Dabate purchased it in Oct. 2015.
Besides touching an item, DNA can also end up in the air, Ladd said. Someone talking, coughing, or sneezing can expel DNA that will float and land somewhere feet away.
Gedansky mentioned that DNA from a state police member was found on a safe in the Dabates’ home, yet that trooper had testified he didn’t touch the safe. He asked Ladd if he was surprised by that, and Ladd said if the trooper wasn’t wearing a mask, then he wasn’t surprised.
After lunch the state called in Alison Gingell, who processed gunshot residue evidence for the state forensic lab. She explained first how gunshot residue forms.
When a gun trigger is pulled, a firing pin strikes a primer cap on a bullet. The resulting reaction propels the bullet out of the gun, and in the process vaporizes chemicals that are ejected from the back and sides of a firearm in a plume. Gingell described the usually invisible plume as similar to the cloud caused by clapping two chalk erasers together.
Particles in the plume cool and land on surfaces. When testing for gunshot residue, forensic examiners look for the elements barium, lead, and antimony. If it’s believed a person fired a gun, the most likely location to swab for samples is their hands and their shirt cuffs, if wearing long sleeves, or the front of their shirt if wearing short sleeves.
If particles containing elements of gunshot residue are found, the results fall into three categories: commonly associated with gunshot residue if one element is found, consistent with gunshot residue if two elements are found, and if three are found, it’s called characteristic of gunshot residue, according to Gingell.
Gingell said her test on a swab from the back of Dabate’s right hand discovered a particle characteristic of gunshot residue. The same type of particle was found in a test of his left rear pants pocket.
A test of his right shirt sleeve and chest area found a particle consistent with gunshot residue, Gingell said.
A test for residue on Connie Dabate’s hands found certain areas also had particles containing all three residue elements.
The discovery of gunshot residue on a person’s body doesn’t mean they necessarily fired a gun, Gingell said. They could have been in close proximity when the gun was fired, or touched an object that had residue on it.
She acknowledged it was possible that if someone grabbed Dabate’s hand with their own, so that their palm covered the back of Dabate’s hand, gunshot residue could have been transferred.
Dabate, 45, was charged in April 2017 with murder, tampering with physical evidence, and making a false statement in connection with the death of his wife, Connie, on Dec. 23, 2015.
State police and the prosecutor have said Dabate staged his wife’s murder as a home invasion to avoid the fallout of a divorce, as he was expecting a baby with one of his mistresses.