Ed Meyer

RAVENNA: Lawyers for Randy Resh and Bob Gondor rested their case Monday morning in their Portage County civil trial.

The men are trying to prove their “actual innocence” in connection with the 1988 slaying of a Randolph Township woman.

Attorney Steven Bradley, who represents Gondor, told Judge Marvin Shapiro that the two men testified “in great detail” about everything they did, “and they were clear and explicit,” he said, “that they had nothing to do with the death of Connie Nardi.”

Shapiro, who is handling the trial by appointment as a visiting judge, will decide the issue on what is known as a “preponderance of the evidence.”

Resh and Gondor, who were exonerated for the murder seven years ago in a new trial the Ohio Supreme Court had ordered, bear the burden of proof in this civil trial.

If they do not win, they cannot proceed along a legal track that would take them to arguments before the Ohio Court of Claims for monetary damages for wrongful conviction.

Meanwhile, as prosecutors were beginning to prepare their side of the civil case — the testimony of Troy Busta as their star witness — Shapiro announced before the lunch break that some type of issue has arisen over that testimony.

No details were discussed in open court.

Busta’s mother, Kay Busta, who was seated in the courtroom hallway, declined a Beacon Journal request for an interview about her son.

Troy Joseph Busta, now 46, is the only man still in prison for the crime. He has been denied parole twice since 2009, and most recently declined to answer any evidentiary questions in depositions with the lawyers for Resh and Gondor as they were preparing for the civil trial.

Busta’s testimony sent Resh and Gondor to prison in their criminal trials 24 years ago as the prosecution’s sole eyewitness to the crime. He had agreed to testify in all proceedings in a 1989 plea bargain in which the death penalty for him was taken off the table.

Gondor was asked about that night, and whether he was involved in the crime in any way.

“No, I was not involved in the death of Connie Nardi, whatsoever. I did not participate in it. I had no knowledge of it,” he told Shapiro. “On Aug. 14, 1988, I was an innocent man, and today as I sit before you I’m still an innocent man.”

Nardi’s ex-husband, Michael Nardi, 69, testified Monday afternoon. He began by saying he is suffering from a case of bronchitis and that his memory is affected.

He vaguely recalled that he was dating his wife for “maybe four or five years” but could not remember when they were married.

Nardi told the court they first met in a karate school that he once owned. He was a black-belt instructor; she was a student.

Portage County Assistant Prosecutor Thomas Buchanan asked Nardi if his ex-wife, who had obtained a lower-level brown belt, could fight off one man of about 160 pounds — Busta’s approximate size.

Michael Nardi said he thought she could.

“She was a tough little girl. She was in good physical shape,” he said.

When Buchanan asked if she was capable of fighting off three men attacking her, he replied: “She was a short, little girl, so I don’t think so.”

Outside of court after testifying, Nardi was asked if he felt Resh and Gondor were involved in the crime.

“No doubt in my mind that they were involved,” he replied.

He immediately brought up “the smug look” he said he saw on Gondor’s face in a photo introduced on the first day of the trial.

It was taken in June 1987, showing Gondor and Resh dressed in white tuxedos at Resh’s wedding. Michael Nardi said he saw the photo in a Beacon Journal news article last week.

Told the photo was taken decades ago, Nardi said: “I thought they were doing that in front of the courthouse.”

The civil trial resumes this morning.

Ed Meyer can be reached at 330-996-3784 or emeyer@thebeaconjournal.com.