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Attorneys for two Portage County men first convicted, then cleared of a 1988 murder, grilled the lead detective on the case on Tuesday during testimony in a civil trial to determine if their clients should be awarded monetary damages for spending 17 years behind bars for a crime they didn't commit.
Read related content: Bob Gondor, Randy Resh seek ruling of 'actual innocence'
Representing Bob Gondor and Randy Resh, who were convicted in 1990 of the murder of 32-year-old Connie Nardi of Randolph during an alleged attempted rape on the Geauga/Portage County line in August 1988, attorneys Steven Bradley and Mark Marein questioned former Geauga County Sheriff's Lt. David Easthon on all aspects of his investigation into Nardi's death 25 years ago.
Retired Summit County Common Pleas Judge Marvin Shapiro is hearing the civil case by special appointment of the Ohio Supreme Court and will make a ruling without a jury. Shapiro must make a finding of "actual innocence" for Gondor and Resh to receive financial compensation for wrongful imprisonment.
At a 2007 retrial ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court, a jury found Resh not guilty, and the Portage County Prosecutor's Office dropped murder charges against Gondor. Those findings have led to the current civil trial.
Another man, Troy J. Busta, 46, pleaded guilty to and was convicted of Nardi's murder in Geauga County in 1989. He was sentenced to 15 years in prison before being eligible for parole, and testified against Gondor and Resh, saying they had a hand in Nardi's murder and helped him dump her body in the pond. By accepting a plea deal, he avoided the possibility of the death penalty.
Nardi's body was found in a pond off Rapids Road in Geauga County, just north of the Portage County. Testimony indicated it was a popular area for people to fish. Easthon, who left the sheriff's office in October 1988 to become chief of police in the village of Middlefield once the case was transferred to Portage County authorities, testified that he and another detective interviewed numerous friends and acquaintances of all three men during his investigation -- only the second murder he had ever investigated, he admitted.
During a recorded interview with Resh at his Infirmary Road mobile home on Aug. 17, 1988, Resh told Easthon and Sgt. Tom Dewey he was drunk that night after coming home from a Cleveland Indians game, and only vaguely recalled stopping at the Upper Deck Bar in Mantua Township on the way to a relative's house.
Busta later told investigators the three men took Nardi from the Upper Deck to a washed-out bridge in the area of Allyn and Abbott roads in Hiram Township and tried to have sex with her. When she refused and resisted, she was strangled, her body put into the bed of Gondor's white Ford pickup truck and dumped in the pond across the county line.
Despite Busta telling investigators that Nardi bit Resh on the arm during a struggle, Easthon admitted under questioning that he did not see any bite marks on Resh's arms or hands during the Aug. 17 interview.
In interviews with detectives, Gondor and Resh said they left the Upper Deck bar, went to another bar, then ordered a pizza from the Streetsboro Domino's at 12:42 a.m. Monday, Aug. 15, picking it up around 1 a.m. They previously testified they barely knew Busta and only saw him briefly at the Upper Deck bar, where he allegedly left with Nardi on his motorcycle, returned with her alive, then left again and returned without her before closing.
Busta is expected to be called to the stand in the civil trial, but court records indicate he has previously declined to answer any questions put to him by Gondor and Resh's attorneys during prior depositions.
Attorneys for Gondor and Resh allege prosecutors pressured Busta into testifying after his mother was caught trying to bring a four-inch knife to him while he was being held at the Geauga County jail by hiding it inside a shoe.
Kay Busta never was charged in the incident, and Troy Busta implicated Gondor and Resh in an interview with investigators two days later, attorneys for Gondor and Resh said. They also claimed Troy Busta's sister, Joann, lied about talking to Gondor at a Garrettsville gas station on Labor Day 1988, which never happened. Gondor was on vacation at Put-In-Bay, they said, and Joann Busta later admitted to Easthon that she lied, he testified.
Testimony continues today.
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Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier
Subsequent to further testimony, the error has been corrected in our online edition.
Mr. O'Brien: You need to amend what you wrote in the last paragraph.
"They also claimed Kay Busta lied about talking to Gondor at a Garrettsville gas station on Labor Day 1988, which never happened. Gondor was on vacation at Put-In-Bay, they said, and Kay Busta later admitted to Easthon that she lied, he testified."
It wasn't Kay Busta. It was her daughter (now deceased) Joanna.