He was sitting on his trailer porch that night because it was so hot.
It was around midnight, only several hours after a 31-year-old Randolph Township woman, Connie Nardi, was last seen at the Upper Deck Bar in Mantua Township.
The date was Aug. 14, 1988.
Troy Busta, the man still imprisoned for the Nardi slaying, implicated Randy Resh and Bob Gondor at their 1990 Portage County murder trials by testifying that they followed him back from the bar late that night to the small trailer where he lived on his parents’ property in Hiram.
Resh’s neighbor at the time, Donald Vanaman, now 54 and living in Shalersville Township, described an entirely different turn of events Wednesday at the Portage County courthouse.
On the third day of a civil trial that could lead to a declaration of innocence in the decades-old case, Vanaman said he saw Resh and Gondor driving up to Resh’s trailer, “right around midnight.”
Gondor was in his 1986 Ford pickup. Resh was in his 1986 Chevrolet Cavalier.
Vanaman remembered it well, he told the judge, “because it was so hot that night.”
Not long afterward, Vanaman said he saw them leave Resh’s trailer momentarily in Resh’s car and return with a pizza box.
Court records introduced in the case, then and now, showed the two men ordered a pizza from Domino’s, on state Route 14 in Streetsboro, at 12:42 a.m.
Resh’s lawyer, Mark Marein, then asked Vanaman if he ever saw the two men leave the trailer again.
“Nope, they never left,” he said.
Vanaman said he was certain of that because he continued sitting on his porch until 4 a.m., “until my trailer cooled down.”
Prosecutors have long contended, relying on Busta’s testimony, that Resh and Gondor had followed Busta home to cover their tracks in the murder some three hours earlier.
Retired Summit County Common Pleas Judge Marvin Shapiro is hearing the case by appointment as a visiting judge. He will make the decision, according to Ohio civil law, based on a preponderance of the evidence.
Resh and Gondor were scheduled to take the witness stand this morning.
Both men were exonerated after serving 16½ years following a 2007 criminal retrial ordered by the Ohio Supreme Court.
Nardi’s partially clothed body was found, face down, by a fisherman on Aug. 15, 1988, in a pond off Rapids Road in Geauga County’s Troy Township.
Her death was ruled a strangulation, and Busta testified that Resh hit her twice in the face, then choked her with his hands.
The lead investigator, former Geauga Sheriff’s Lt. David Easthon, testified Tuesday that an extensive search of the pond’s perimeter, along with a 650-foot dirt road leading to it, uncovered no trace evidence in connection with any suspects.
But Easthon did testify about what he and other law officers saw when the body was removed from the water.
He said they saw “she had been battered, because she had bruises and contusions on her face.”
In an attempt to negate the state’s theory that those injuries were from blunt-force trauma during a beating, the lawyers for Resh and Gondor called forensic pathologist Dr. Susan J. Roe, deputy medical examiner in Tarrant County in Fort Worth, Texas.
Prosecutors dubbed her the “Turtle Lady” during the 2007 retrial.
Roe, who estimated that she has done 6,000 autopsies during her 26-year career in forensic pathology, testified in Wednesday’s hearing by videoconference from her offices in Texas. She was not paid.
“In this particular case,” she told the court, “I thought it was the appropriate thing to do and I’m not charging.”
Roe said she reviewed numerous crime-scene photos, the autopsy report, photos, toxicology screens and the death certificate.
She said she saw no marks on the neck, such as from fingernails. Victims in such cases, Roe said, struggle with their attacker in attempting to break free.
What Roe said she did see in the crime-scene and autopsy photos was a distinct pattern of what she termed “haphazard linear scratches” to the left and right side of the face, the full face, the right ear lobe, the lower face and the upper neck.
Those marks, Roe said, were from the claws of turtles.
Roe based that observation on many years of previous experience as a forensic pathologist in Minnesota, the fabled Land of 10,000 Lakes, where she said she investigated hundreds of deaths involving victims found in water.
And when she showed photos this week to two forensic colleagues, she said: “They said turtles instantly.”
By Ed Meyer - Akron Beacon Journal (MCT)
©2014 the Akron Beacon Journal (Akron, Ohio)
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