Adam Carlson and Steve Helling
May 29, 2017 03:29 PM

Connie and Richard Dabate seemed to have a great life in Ellington, Connecticut, with a nice house and cars, good jobs and two wonderful young sons.

Married since 2003, they looked “like a really solid couple,” says Connie’s friend Allie Clarke. “Like, a really together couple that had made it work.”

But that facade began to fall apart on the morning of Dec. 23, 2015, when police found Connie fatally shot in their basement — with Richard saying that they had been attacked by a 6-foot-2-inch masked intruder who had subdued and zip-tied him to a chair before killing his wife.

Police summoned canine units to track the attacker’s scent, but the dogs instead zeroed in on Richard, whose description of events “made no sense,” according to a spokesman for the Connecticut State Police.

In April — 16 months later — Richard was arrested and charged with Connie’s murder, evidence tampering and giving false statements to police. He is free on bond before his trial later this year and has denied the accusations that he is a killer.

“My client is innocent of these charges, and he looks forward to being vindicated after a trial,” his attorney said in a statement.

But that’s not what authorities believe: Citing Richard’s own statement to investigators and electronic records, including crucial information provided by Connie’s Fitbit just before her death, they allege that the 40-year-old computer network administrator murdered his wife while apparently preparing for a new life with his pregnant lover.

“I never saw this coming, never in a million years,” Clarke, Connie’s friend, tells PEOPLE. “They really did seem to have it all.”

From left: Connie and Richard Dabate
Connie Dabate/Myspace

Connie and Richard, she says, “were different people, but they really seemed to really like and respect each other.”

She “was always the first to volunteer for anything,” according to Clarke: “class mom, PTA, anything for her friends.”

While Connie “was the responsible one,” Richard “was the overgrown kid.”

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“He made corny jokes and puns, but he was really quick on his feet,” Clarke says. “He could come up with a joke for every situation.”

There were conflicts, but to Clarke they seemed like minor disputes and all in keeping with a marriage of more than 10 years.

From left: Richard and Connie Dabate
Connie Dabate/Myspace
Richard Dabate (center) in court in April 2017
Mark Mirko/Hartford Courant via AP

In fact, according to investigators, Richard admitted to his extramarital affair, though he was vague on many details, including the pregnancy.

“This situation,” he allegedly told cops, “popped up like a fricking soap opera.”

Court records show that in the days before Connie’s death, Richard texted his mistress (whom he called his “little love nugget”) a promise to divorce his wife.

In another twist, authorities say that Connie’s Fitbit is a crucial piece of evidence undermining Richard’s version of events, as it shows her being active around their house for about an hour after he said their alarm was tripped.

As the investigation continues, the Dabates’ community of friends and family is left reeling from the criss-crossing accusations — and the death of a beloved wife and mom.

“It’s the saddest thing,” Clarke says. “I feel for the boys, because they’ll have to grow up knowing that their father killed their mother. How do you deal with that?”

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