TAYLOR COUNTY, Texas (KTAB/KRBC) – The afternoon session of day five in the trial for the murder of Abilene realtor Tom Niblo was largely dedicated to data, which showed the suspect was at various places around Niblo’s home while he was on vacation two weeks prior to the crime, and strange internet searches that were flagged by detectives were highlighted in court.
Follow the trial:
Sergeant Paul Martinez, who helped analyze much of the electronic data connected to this case, gave testimony on this evidence.
Before outlining what he found during exhaustive efforts to dig through data on electronics seized from suspect Luke Sweetser and his wife Ellouise, Sgt. Martinez briefly spoke on using a magnet to search the creek behind the home on Woodridge Drive where Tom Niblo was shot and killed on December 12, 2016.
He helped search the creek the day of and day after the murder, describing how the high water level, large amount of debris, and severe inward slope of the banks made it difficult to navigate their search efficiently.
Sgt. Martinez was also present after a gun was recovered in that same creek between 800 and 1,000 feet from the Niblo home in August 2018. He confirmed police never searched the area where the gun was eventually located by a teen playing in the creek behind his grandfather’s house on South Leggett Street.
Next, Sgt. Martinez spoke to the data logs from Luke Sweetser’s cell phone, as well as two phones from his wife, Ellouise, who is also Tom Niblo’s sister.
Luke’s phone showed several calls between he and his wife within hours after Tom Niblo was killed:
- Outgoing call at 9:05 a.m.
- Incoming call at 9:06 a.m.
- Missed incoming call at 9:16 a.m.
- Incoming call at 9:19 a.m.
- Incoming call at 9:50 a.m.
- Outgoing call at 9:54 a.m.
- Missed incoming call at 10:09 a.m.
- Outgoing call at 10:11 a.m.
The couple also exchanged brief text messages about meeting during this time.
Police testified that Luke’s phone was turned off from around 7:00 p.m. December 11 to around 9:00 a.m. December 12, meaning any calls made to his phone during this time would not be recorded unless a voicemail was left. Ellouise did leave him two voicemails from a landline around 3:46 a.m. that morning.
Investigators determined Luke’s phone was off during this time because it received no activity from any apps, GPS data, calls, messages, and more. However, a spreadsheet showing Luke’s data and location history from October, November, and December 2016 showed it was not uncommon from him to turn his phone off at night then turn it back on at some point the next morning.
What was uncommon, according to Sgt. Martinez, was the fact that his phone was turned on outside the Niblo Family Storage facility the morning of the murder. In the more than one dozen times Luke’s phone was turned off then turned back on the next day or hours later, that’s the only time it came back on near that location.
Location data from Luke’s phone also showed he was pinged in several locations at or near the Niblo home on Woodridge Drive December 2, including an area in the creek and one ping that was so accurate, it showed him within 6 meters of their driveway door.
Tom Niblo, his wife Cheryl, and their daughters and sons-in-law were all away from home on vacation the weekend of December 2, and Sgt. Martinez said there was no reason Luke should have been in their neighborhood.
This was the only time Luke was ever recorded at the Niblo home from October through December of 2016, though he was pinged a few times on Woodridge Drive several blocks away across South 14th Street.
Data from Ellouise Sweetser’s (née Niblo, now Campbell) cellphone showed that Luke called her at 9:55 a.m. and 10:11 a.m. the morning of the murder, which happened December 12 around 6:00 a.m. She also missed a call from Luke at 9:05 a.m. that morning, and made outgoing calls to him at the following times: 10:09 a.m., 9:54 a.m., 9:19 a.m., 9:17 a.m., 9:06 a.m., 8:02 a.m., 8:01 a.m., 7:48 a.m., 7:48 a.m., and 7:12 a.m. She also called him twice from a landline at 3:45 a.m.
Ellouise also had a second phone that she purchased after her first phone was seized during the investigation. Sgt. Martinez said there was only one item of evidence in that data – a text message sent from a third party to Ellouise January 8, 2017 which read, “sending you a photo of a letter Luke sent me.” The attached letter was handwritten by Luke, advising Ellouise to make sure she and her mother voted to become manager of the family partnership and LLC and that they may have to “bully” Tom’s daughter if she gets in the way.
Next, Sgt. Martinez talked about items of interest that were found on four different electronic devices seized from the Sweetser residence on Sylvan Drive. The FBI did assist APD with this part of the investigation.
The data showed these devices were accessing multiple websites about guns, a pro bono attorney website was accessed November 18, 2016, a survivalist blog was accessed a day or two before the murder, and a lawyer ratings website was accessed the day after.
Search histories on the devices showed users by the name of “Luke,” “Sweetser,” and/or “Luke Sweetser” were searching for information on the following items in the time surrounding the murder: Guns, weapons, conflict Texas will & LLC, “What percentage of murders are caused by men,” “addiction in a nutshell,” several searches for Lynn Ingalsbe (now serving as Luke’s attorney), sword, “hydrochloric acid and dead bodies,” and numerous inquiries on matters dealing with the Niblo Family LLC, the estate and final will and testament of the late Sydney Niblo, the Niblo Family Partnership, and other family business matters.
There were also specific searches about “breaking up family partnership” and a search inquiry that resulted in a link to a website about what happens if an LLC member dies. Someone was also researching the Niblo family ranch and searching to learn “how to sell closely held family ranch farm litigation.”
In addition to the searches, Luke also had a Dropbox account that he accessed frequently with documents detailing everything about the Niblo Family LLC and Partnership, the family worth and valuation of this business, Syd Niblo’s will, emails to attorneys and more. Some of these files were last accessed the day before the murder and there were several files having to do with these matters that were placed in a digital recycle bin the night before the murder.
Lastly, data showed that Luke was looking at a map of Elm Creek behind the Niblo residence about 7:00 p.m. December 10.
Sergeant Paul Martinez will continue his testimony Tuesday morning. Stick with BigCountryHomepage.com for the latest information.