Evidence inside the courtroom: Surveillance videos track murder suspect's movement

December 12, 2018 05:21 PM

Waterloo, NY (WHEC) – Neighbors took the witness stand Wednesday during the ongoing Waterloo double homicide trial, with surveillance videos being the prime source of evidence.

In the defendant's seat sits Emerson John Tohafjian, accused of shooting and killing Lori McConnell and Chuck Andrus at a home on Virginia Street on July 10, 2018.

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Karen Zdunko was also shot, surviving the attack after recovering in the hospital.

Across the courtroom sits the recently-appointed jury, charged with sifting through the evidence and testimony to determine Tohafjian's fate.

On Wednesday, that evidence included surveillance video pulled from nearby homes on the night of the murders. 

Just after 11 a.m. Wednesday, a neighbor named Mary sat next to the judge while recalling what she saw the night of July 10.

Living on Locust Street, she saw a "shiny black car" driving past her home as she sat on the porch, watching as it parked in a nearby parking lot. 

She told the courtroom she watched as a man in a light-colored shirt and cream-colored shorts got out of the car and walked towards her porch. She saw him walking on a pathway around her building, at one point leaping off the path when the motion-activated lights turned on.

She detailed his movements, at one point noting he got "close enough [she] could've touched him" before he winded his way back towards his car and took off.

Surveillance video from her porch collaborates what she saw, with the prosecutor showing two videos to the jury.

In the black-and-white video, a man matching Tohafjian's description walks past the porch. In the second camera angle, he's seen walking past cars while smoking a cigarette.

When attorneys asked the neighbor if she believed the man in the video was in the courtroom, she said, "yes, I do" and pointed directly at Tohafjian.

As she was excused, a neighbor who lives on Church Street was brought up to the stand.

This neighbor also has cameras on his porch, with video from the night of July 10 brought into evidence.

In four separate clips with time stamps ranging from 10:50 p.m. to 11:27 p.m., a car matching the description given by the neighbor on Locust Street is seen passing by the home multiple times. 

Next, the prosecutor called up Johnie Robinson, who is a taxi driver in Waterloo.

Robinson told the courtroom he would often pick up and drop off Karen and Lori. On the night of the murders, he dropped the two women off at Karen's home on Virginia Street.

Dash cam video from that evening captured audio of the two friends talking in the back of the car. For the family and friends in the courtroom, it brought tears to their eyes listening to Lori in what would be the last moments of her life. 

The video also showed Robinson dropping the women off, he explained he would bring them to the back of the building, closer to Karen's door because of her disability. He would wait to make sure she got into the doorway.

"Be safe," he's heard saying to the women on the video. They wish him a good night in return.

Within moments, Robinson is heard yelling "oh my god" while looking to the right, out of frame. He told the jury that at that moment he saw a man jump out of the bushes. He said they made eye contact and the man smiled and waved.

Robinson said he recognized the man as Tohafjian because he had given him rides before and that he also lived in the same apartment complex as Robinson's girlfriend.

He told jurors he became immediately concerned when he saw what looked like a gun in the man's hands.

In the dash cam video, Robinson is seen and heard as he called dispatch asking them to call police, worried he was going to kill them.

During cross-examination, the defense attorney pointed out that Robinson described the man jumping out of the bushes as wearing jeans and no shirt, which is not how neighbors described the man they saw who was driving the black car. Those neighbors said he was wearing a white shirt and light colored shorts.

As the trial continued, the prosecution called forward two more witnesses. They are both investigators who walked through the evidence they collected and processed at both the scene of the shooting and at the campground where Tohajian was arrested.

That evidence included a cell phone recovered in nearby water, a letter addressed to Tohafjian in the black Dodge Charger, along with a pamphlet for Straight Talk Wireless, and shell casings from the house on Virginia Street. 

The trial will resume Thursday morning.


Stephanie Robusto

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