Laura Babcock's phone tracked near accused killers before her disappearance, jury hears

When Laura Babcock's cellphone was used for the last time, it was to make a 60-second call to voicemail — a call that connected to a cellphone tower a few hundred metres from accused killer Dellen Millard's home, according to Crown evidence.

Co-accused Dellen Millard and Mark Smich have pleaded not guilty to 1st-degree murder

Laura Babcock's phone records are being presented to a Toronto jury at the trial into her alleged murder. (Babcock family)

Testimony at the Laura Babcock murder trial entered a new phase Thursday — up until now the jury has heard from family, friends, even random strangers, who were among the last people to see Babcock before she disappeared in July 2012.

Now the Crown has presented a mountain of technical evidence: pages of Babcock's phone records tracing her last calls and texts and placing her phone in the same location as Dellen Millard and Mark Smich's phones at the time of her disappearance.

The prosecution alleges Babcock was killed by Millard, 32, of Toronto, and his former best friend Mark Smich, 30, of Oakville, Ont., at Millard's home on July 3, 2012.

Both men have pleaded not guilty to charges of first-degree murder.​

Babcock, 23, was usually glued to her Blackberry, but jurors saw on that summer night, all communication stopped.

Nicole Rebelo, an intelligence analyst with the Toronto Police Service, gave a lengthy PowerPoint presentation that tracked Babcock, Millard and Smich's phones as they connected with the same cellphone towers.

Toronto Police Services intelligence analyst presented cellphone records of Laura Babcock, Dellen Millard, and Mark Smich Thursday in a downtown Toronto courtroom. (Petar Valkov/ CBC Toronto)

​While much of the data presented was dense and complex, the jury heard that analysts are able to track a phone's location because calls and texts are transmitted through a cell site with the strongest signal — usually within about 100 metres of the device.

Using phone records and Google Earth maps, Rebelo set out to show in his testimony that both Babcock and Millard's phones hit the same cell site, at 5324 Dundas Street West, near Kipling transit station in Toronto's west end, during the afternoon of July 3.

Both phones then moved to or near Millard's home in Etobicoke. At the same time, Smich's phone connected to a tower at 210 Markland Drive, just a few hundred metres of Millard's home.

Crown attorney Ken Lockhart, who led Thursday's questioning, didn't present any context for jury members as Rebelo listed the data.

But during opening statements on Oct. 23, Crown Jill Cameron outlined their case, alleging sometime after 7:00 p.m. July 3, Millard and Smich killed Babcock.

Rebelo said records show the following morning, July 4, Babcock's phone continued to receive incoming calls and text messages and later, cell towers connected with both her phone and Millard's phones as they moved west from Millard's home, along the Lakeshore.

Somewhere near Mississauga, Babcock's phone stopped making connections with cell towers.

Millard, who is acting as his own lawyer, asked Rebelo to interpret some of the findings, but she said she couldn't. Her expertise is to compile the data and map it.

He asked several other questions before concluding, "I don't think you're able to answer the questions I have, thank you."

Smich's lawyer, Thomas Dungey, had only one main question for Rebelo, suggesting that even if two people's phones connect to the same tower, it doesn't mean they are in the precise same location. She agreed.

Toronto Police Services intelligence analyst Nicole Rubelo was questioned Thursday by Crown attorney Ken Lockhart (right) and cross-examined by co-accused Dellen Millard (left). (Pam Davies/ CBC Toronto)

Babcock's last call made near Millard's home

Earlier Thursday, a senior investigator with Rogers Communications, Danielle Fortier, took the jury through Babcock's last outgoing calls, presenting records that showed how frequently she was using her phone before she disappeared.

On June 30, 2012, there were 38 outgoing calls made and 74 texts sent, with similar volumes on July 1 and 2.

Court saw the last outgoing call was made at 7:03 p.m. on July 3, 2012.

It lasted 60 seconds and seemed to be consistent with checking voicemail. Fortier explained that after the phone number was entered, three digits were pressed, similar to a password.

Like Rebelo, Fortier testified Babcock's phone connected to a cellphone tower a few hundred metres from Millard's home.

Danielle Fortier, a senior investigator with Rogers Communications, was asked if Laura Babcock placed any outgoing calls or sent text messages after 7:03 p.m. July 3, 2012. She searched her phone records and testified none were made. (Pam Davies/ CBC Toronto)

During cross examination, Dungey again pointed out that cell tower information isn't a precise science.

"We don't really have an accurate picture of where the phone call came from, because there could be obstruction of some kind?" he asked.

Fortier agreed cellphone records can only highlight a general area, and weather or large objects, such as trees or buildings, could cause a call or text to bounce from the nearest cell site, to a farther one.

Meantime, Millard asked Fortier about a phone's subscriber information. He said just because someone is billed for a phone, doesn't mean they are using it.

She agreed, that's possible.

About the Author

Shannon Martin

Reporter, CBC Toronto

Shannon is an award-winning reporter with CBC Toronto. She was part of the core team that launched "No Fixed Address", a hugely popular series on millenials renting and buying in Toronto. In 2016, Shannon hosted a special live broadcast on-air and on Facebook simultaneously from Toronto Pride, which won top honours in the Digital category at the RTDNA awards. Contact Shannon: shannon.martin@cbc.ca or find her on Instagram at @ShannonMartinTV.