William McFadden, the Tech Lead for the Digital Forensics Unit at the Durham Police Department, takes the stand. He’s worked for 18 years for the police, 13 of which he’s spent on the digital forensics team. He wears a buzz cut and speaks into the microphone in front of him with ease.
It’s March 24, 2022, and Daniel Mohar is on trial for second-degree murder. On the night of June 5, 2019, a waitress at what was then called The Social Club in downtown Durham kicked a drunk Edward Tivan out of the bar. Tivan called her a tramp, prompting Mohar to shove him to the ground, where he hit his head on the pavement. Tivan died in the hospital two days later.
McFadden arrived at the scene of the fight on June 6, and investigators led him to the Solis Apartments (now Brightleaf on Main) to retrieve surveillance footage from the residence. Solis sits right next to The Social Club at 1005 W. Main St.
A prosecutor stands next to McFadden and dramatically holds up a shiny DVD for the entire room to see. It catches the light and almost twinkles. It is Exhibit 5A, a piece of the surveillance tape that McFadden retrieved.
Clips of “Law and Order” trials and “Judge Judy” rulings flash in our heads when we watch a moment like this. We assume that a trial, particularly a murder trial, will be full of the drama that we’ve seen on TV for years, and we even look to find it in places where it doesn’t lie. We look for it as the prosecutor slips the DVD into the video player.
A wall-sized screen drops from the ceiling on the right side of the room opposite the jury, as the lights dim. Two women, one younger and one older, rush out of the high-ceilinged courtroom. The heavy door echoes through the largely empty space.
Up until this point, the jury has appeared emotionally uninvolved. They might be watching the proceedings of a traffic citation, not a second-degree murder trial.
Until now. Now they are alert, one jury member even waking from his nap. Now this must be something hard to watch. Two women sitting right behind the defendant fall silent after non-stop whispering. Mohar fidgets in his slate-gray suit and tie. Even the deputies turn to face the screen.
The time is 10:08 p.m. on June 5, 2019.
All eyes are on the screen. It’s a video of the surveillance tape on an iPad. It’s a little shaky. The screen of the iPad is a bit smudged, and the actual surveillance footage is of low quality. There is no sound. The camera is pointing away from The Social Club, so you see people only as they enter and exit.
The street is lit from the parking garage of the Solis Apartments. Exhibit 5A plays. Across the street we can slightly see a man in salmon shorts and sneakers passing from right to left on the camera, but it’s difficult in the dark. William McFadden identifies him as the defendant.
The prosecution presents a second part of the surveillance tape, Exhibit 5B, taken from the Solis Apartments at 10:21 PM on June 5, 2019. Just thirteen minutes after the first video. Everyone’s eyes are still glued to the screen.
Now when the video plays we can clearly see Mohar walking away from the surveillance camera, away from The Social Club. He walks in and out of frame in the matter of seconds. The most dramatic movement he makes is putting a hand in his pocket. The video stops.
One woman sitting directly behind the defendant, with darker hair and a few white stripes mixed, turns to her friend and whispers “That wasn’t that bad.” After the video, the energy drains from the room. Jurors slump back into their seats. Others appear confused. Did we miss something?
But in those 13 minutes, Mohar pushed Tivan onto the ground, where he suffered an injury that would eventually kill him.
After the video stops, defense attorney Emilia Beskind strides confidently towards the witness stand. She prefaces her cross-examination by saying she doesn’t plan on asking McFadden many questions.
“It is fair to say he is walking,” she begins.
“This is correct,” McFadden replies.
“He’s not running.”
“That is also correct.”
“He’s not power walking.”
“That is correct.”
“In fact, he’s walking the same way in this video as he does in [Exhibit A].”
“That is correct.”
“No further questions.”
Beskind turns and struts back to her chair, her shoulders back. Pleased to know her defendant didn’t rush from the scene, but coolly walked away after a fight that led to the death of another man.
McFadden steps down from the stand, and the two women who had escaped the room re-enter.
Mohar’s case closed just four days after opening statements. The case was downgraded from second-degree murder to involuntary manslaughter, and Mohar will only serve up to eight months.