Ed Meyer

RAVENNA: He said there were no screams.

And he could not recall seeing any blood.

Troy Busta, who was sent to prison 25 years ago in the strangulation death of a Randolph Township woman, gave a detailed description Wednesday about how the slaying occurred during a violent struggle in which two other accomplices were involved.

Busta’s testimony came on the eighth day of a Portage County civil trial that could determine the innocence of alleged accomplices Randy Resh and Bob Gondor.

They were exonerated for the murder following a 2007 retrial, but if they do not win in this phase, they can’t take the final step in their civil suit: arguments for possible monetary damages in the Ohio Court of Claims for wrongful conviction.

In sometimes heated questioning Wednesday from attorney Mark Marein, Busta was asked whether it was fair to say that Resh choked the victim, 31-year-old Connie Nardi, to death during a “virtual melee” on the night of Aug. 14, 1988.

Busta said it was. He also said Resh struck Nardi twice in the face, once with a closed fist, next with a glancing elbow.

Marein then asked: When was Resh bitten during the struggle?

“He wasn’t,” Busta replied.

The line of questioning ended when Marein produced documentation of Busta’s recorded interview with the lead investigator, former Geauga Sheriff’s Lt. Dave Easthon, on March 23, 1989, just before Busta finalized his plea bargain in court.

Why, he was asked, did he tell Easthon then that Nardi bit Resh?

“I don’t know,” Busta replied.

Retired Summit County Judge Marvin Shapiro, who was appointed to handle the civil trial, will decide the issue without a jury. Closing arguments will begin this morning.

The 1988 slaying occurred on a Sunday night, several hours after Busta met Nardi at the Upper Deck bar in Mantua Township. Testimony showed they were both drinking heavily, dancing on top of the bar at one point, and left together on a motorcycle sometime after 9 p.m.

Busta said repeatedly this week that his times, before and after the crime, could be off.

Resh and Gondor also were drinking at the bar that night, and Busta testified that they all hatched a plan to lure Nardi to a washout area on the banks of the Cuyahoga River nearby.

According to Busta’s testimony, Nardi was killed after refusing to have sex with them.

Busta, now 46, was the first man to get a deal from prosecutors. He originally faced the death penalty for aggravated murder, but in his 1989 plea bargain the charge was reduced to murder and the death penalty was dropped in exchange for his cooperation in all court proceedings.

Lawyers for Resh and Gondor have attempted to impeach Busta’s testimony on several fronts.

They spent considerable time going over an incident from 1988 in which his mother, Kay Busta, was caught bringing a lock-blade knife into the Geauga County Jail, where Busta was being held after his arrest.

Deputies found the knife in a hollowed-out section of a shoe.

“The inside of the shoe had been carved out to the shape of the knife,” Deputy Laurie Nelson Suhre told Shapiro in the final minutes of testimony Wednesday afternoon.

Busta had told his father the knife fell out of the shoe inside his cell.

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