Ed Meyer

RAVENNA: The prosecution’s star witness in the Portage County civil trial of Randy Resh and Bob Gondor testified in cold, calm detail Tuesday about how the men allegedly helped him commit a 1988 murder.

Troy Busta, an admitted ex-drug addict who is the only man still imprisoned for the crime, said his day began at the local Bohemian Festival, where he recalled downing four beers — and a few lines of crack cocaine — with his entire family there.

He was 21 and was snorting crack, he said, “pretty much every day.”

It was a hot Sunday afternoon, Aug. 14, the last day of Connie Nardi’s life.

She didn’t attend the festival, but a few hours later, upset after a breakup with her boyfriend, she went to the Upper Deck bar in Mantua Township, where she met Busta.

Resh and Gondor also were there, and Busta recounted in a low monotone Tuesday how they all conspired to lure her to a nearby washout along the Cuyahoga River off Allyn Road in Hiram Township.

It was at the washout, Busta said, that Nardi was strangled to death — Resh straddling her chest, Busta and Gondor holding her down — moments after Resh had asked her to have sex with them.

Nardi refused — twice, Busta said — and Resh “ended up taking her to the ground.”

She was 31 and a divorced mother of two. The next day, her body was found in a pond off Rapids Road in Troy Township near the Geauga-Portage county border.

Resh and Gondor, both exonerated for the murder following a 2007 retrial, are seeking a finding of “actual innocence” in this civil phase of the case.

Retired Summit County Judge Marvin Shapiro is presiding over the trial. Without his finding in their favor, the two men cannot proceed to arguments in the Ohio Court of Claims for possible monetary damages for wrongful conviction.

Busta, now 46, previously had testified against Resh and Gondor three times: at their separate jury trials in 1990, when they were convicted, and seven years ago in a new trial that the Ohio Supreme Court had ordered.

This time, there was a new twist.

Busta told Shapiro that he has been denied parole four times since 1998.

In his most recent bid, last June, Busta finally explained why.

“[The parole board] felt like I put two innocent men in prison,” Busta testified Tuesday.

When Resh and Gondor took the stand earlier in this civil trial, each denied any involvement in the crime as their lawyers asked them to explain virtually every step they took in the hours before and after the slaying.

Under cross-examination, Resh said that Busta’s testimony about the plot being hatched in the Upper Deck men’s room over a cocaine deal “never happened.”

Resh admitted in testimony last week that he occasionally used cocaine when he was in his early 20s, but Busta’s story that he sold Resh a quarter- or half-gram of cocaine in the hours before the slaying, which Busta has repeated ever since the original trials, was a lie, Resh said.

Everyone involved in the case has agreed that all three men had been drinking at the Upper Deck on the night Nardi disappeared, but that’s the only part of Busta’s story that Resh and Gondor ever confirmed.

Busta’s testimony is scheduled to resume at 10:30 a.m. today.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3874 or emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.