Injuries on the body of a murdered Randolph woman were "consistent" with someone wrapping an arm or forearm around her neck, and not with prosecutors' theory of how three men held her down and strangled her to death in Hiram Township following a night of drinking at a Mantua Township bar in August 1988, a medical expert testified in Portage County Common Pleas Court on Wednesday.
The testimony by Dr. Susan Roe, a Tarrant County, Texas, deputy medical examiner, for plaintiffs Bob Gondor and Randy Resh, is part of day three of a civil trial that the men hope will clear the way for them to receive monetary compensation for 17 years they spent behind bars after being convicted of the murder of Connie Nardi in 1990.
Following appeals and higher court rulings, Resh was retried in 2007 and found not guilty of murder by a jury. The Portage County Prosecutor's Office then dropped murder charges against Gondor, and he was freed.
The men are seeking a ruling of "actual innocence" from Visiting Judge Marvin Shapiro. If he rules in their favor, Gondor and Resh could be compensated for wrongful imprisonment by the Ohio Court of Claims.
Prosecutors are arguing against such a ruling.
Troy J. Busta, the lone defendant in the case who remains in prison after pleading guilty to Nardi's murder in 1988, is expected to be called as a witness at a later date.
Roe testified Wednesday via video conference from Texas that turtles in the pond where the body of Connie Nardi, 32, was found on Aug. 14, 1988, were responsible for superficial injuries to the victim's face. That is at odds with the prosecution theory that Nardi's body was scratched as it rested on scrap wood in the back of Gondor's Ford pickup truck prior to being dumped in a pond in Geauga County.
Roe said there was damage from turtle bites to Nardi's earlobes, nose, eyelids and lips. "It's well-documented that turtles go for soft parts" on corpses submerged in water, she testified, echoing testimony she gave during Resh's 2007 retrial.
Roe also testified she had seen similar injuries on drowned and submerged bodies when she worked as a medical examiner in Minnesota, where "we had a lot of lakes."
"It's a classic pattern," Roe said.
A forensic pathologist with more than 6,000 autopsies under her belt, Roe also criticized the original 1988 autopsy report as lacking in details that are "standard" in her profession, including close-up photographs of Nardi's body.
"It makes it difficult to review the case, makes it difficult to support the conclusions by the pathologist who did the autopsy," she testified.
Despite never examining Nardi's body, Roe told Assistant Prosecutor Tom Buchanan that she was still able to make a finding that Nardi died from "asphyxia by cervical compression," as if someone wrapped their arm or forearm around her neck. She wouldn't rule out his theory that a combination of Busta, Gondor and Resh held Nardi down and strangled her, but said the victim's injuries were "inconsistent" with it.
"When fingers are used (to strangle someone), they would still be resistant to being asphyxiated," Roe testified. "People just don't allow that to happen."
Attorney Mark Marein, representing Resh, also put Brenda Holcomb on the stand Wednesday. The manager of the Domino's pizza shop in Streetsboro at the time of the murder, Holcomb originally testified in 1988 and 1990 that Gondor and Resh ordered a pizza at 12:42 a.m. Monday, Aug. 15, 1988, then came in a day later during a rainstorm and tried to get her to provide them with an alibi for the time of the murder.
She originally told investigators Gondor -- "the one that stuttered" -- and Resh -- "the one guy who didn't stutter" -- came into the shop the day after the murder and "really wanted me to remember that they were there" on the night of the murder.
On Wednesday, as she did in 2007, Holcomb testified that she was incorrect in her original testimony in 1990. Weather reports showing it rained in Streetsboro on Thursday, Aug. 18, and Friday, Aug. 19, 1988 -- not on Tuesday, Aug. 16, as Holcomb had originally testified.
"It was a real pour-down rain" when Gondor and Resh showed up to shore up their alibi, Holcomb confirmed during her testimony Wednesday.
Pizza shop employment records also showed that a delivery driver Holcomb said was working on the day Gondor and Resh came in to get help with their alibi only worked with her on one day that week: Friday, Aug. 19, 1988, according to attorneys for Gondor and Resh.
Contact this reporter at 330-298-1128 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Facebook: Dave O'Brien, Record-Courier