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Ohio: Almost $3 Million Settlement in Suit Brought by Two Wrongfully Convicted Men

Ohio: Almost $3 Million Settlement in Suit Brought by Two Wrongfully Convicted Men

by Matt Clarke

In March 2017, a state court judge approved a $2.9 million settlement between Ohio and two men who each spent almost 17 years in prison after having been wrongfully convicted of rape and murder. The settlement was in addition to the $422,000 they each received as preliminary compensation in 2015.

In 1988, the body of Connie Nardi, 31, was discovered floating in a pond in a wooded area near Mantua Township, Ohio. Police soon learned that she was last seen leaving a bar called the Upper Deck with Troy Busta on Busta’s motorcycle. For unknown reasons, lead investigator David Easton became convinced that Robert Gondor and Randy Resh, both 24 at the time, were involved in the crime. He had prosecutors offer Busta a deal that would avoid the death penalty if he implicated Gondor and Resh, who happened to have been at the Upper Deck the day Nardi was killed.

Based on Busta’s testimony and circumstantial evidence, Gondor and Resh were convicted of various felonies and received lengthy sentences. They were cellmates for some of the time they served in prison, and never stopped proclaiming their innocence and fighting their convictions.

Resh and Gondor discovered exculpatory evidence – including DNA evidence – that prosecutors had failed to disclose. Aided by new attorneys, Steve Bradley and Mark Marein, they filed appeals that ultimately resulted in the Ohio Supreme Court reversing their convictions in December 2006 due to ineffective assistance of trial counsel. They were released from prison and allowed to make bond, but the prosecutor said he would seek to try them again.

In an April 2007 retrial, during which Busta testified, Resh was acquitted. The state then dropped the charges against Gondor. But being found “not guilty” and having the charges dismissed did not qualify them for compensation – so they filed suit against the state seeking a declaration that they had been wrongfully convicted and imprisoned.

Following a nine-day trial in 2014, a judge found there was no physical or forensic evidence of any kind linking Resh and Gondor to the murder, and they had presented substantial evidence they were nowhere near the crime scene. Therefore, the court declared them wrongfully imprisoned individuals. In a separate proceeding, Resh and Gondor were granted a preliminary award of $422,049.60 each in compensation for lost earnings pursuant to O.R.C. 2743.48.

In March 2017, Ohio settled the remaining claims for $2.9 million plus $1.1 million in attorneys’ fees. Resh and Gondor said the settlement brought a sense of finality to a case that consumed 27 years of their lives, as the state fought them every step of the way. Despite the court findings, neither the police nor prosecutors admitted to any wrongdoing.

Gondor was not pleased with the settlement. “There’s no real celebration here,” he said. “This was a tragedy, not only for us, but for the family of the victim.

“I don’t think any wrongfully convicted individual would say they were happy they got this for spending 17 years in prison for something they never did,” he added. “We lost our lives. We went in at 26 and came home at 43.”

In addition to testifying against Resh and Gondor at their criminal trials, Busta also testified against them during their 2014 wrongful imprisonment trial. In turn, when Busta was considered for parole in 2017, Resh sent a letter to the parole board opposing his release. See: Gondor v. State, Court of Common Claims (OH), Case No. 2015-00921-WI and Gondor v. State, Court of Common Pleas, Portage Co. (OH), Case No. 2008 cv 00352.

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