For more than half of their lives, Bob Gondor and Randy Resh have lived under a cloud of suspicion for a 1988 slaying.  They have always maintained their innocence.  In a quiet courtroom this week, they finally heard what they had been waiting so long for:

“Both Robert Gondor and Randy Resh, each, are wrongfully imprisoned individuals,” said judge Marvin Shapiro in an 18-page decision.

This ruling enables the two men to proceed to the Ohio Court of Claims for arguments on whether they should receive compensation under Ohio’s wrongful conviction laws.  Shapiro presided over a 9-day civil trial that was mandatory in steps to prove Resh’s and Gonder’s “actual innocence” of the attempted rape and murder of 31-year-old Connie Nardi.

“Having established the time period (9 p.m. to 11 p.m.) as to the time of Nardi’s death, the Court concludes by a preponderance of the evidence produced in this trial, taking into consideration all of the testimony of the witnesses and exhibits, that neither Robert Gondor or Randy Resh were near or with Nardi at the time of her death and that neither Robert Gondor or Randy Resh committed the original charges, including all lesser-included offenses against the victim Connie Nardi and the State of Ohio.”

In explaining his findings, the judge wrote:  “There is no physical or forensic evidence of any kind in this case that would link either or both plaintiffs to the Nardi homicide.”  And in case anyone would have missed that sentence in his ruling, he wrote it in all capital letters.

Prosecutors at their original 1990 trials won convictions “primarily from information received from Troy Busta.  Assuming the timeline above…they have substantial evidence that puts them nowhere near Nardi [or] Troy Busta to participate in the criminal activity they were originally accused of,” the judge wrote.

Busta, 46, is the only man still in prison for the murder.  He originally faced the death penalty, but in exchange for testifying for the state in all future proceedings involving the case, that was dismissed.

Judge Shapiro noted in his ruling, Busta’s “overall testimony…is unreliable.”  “He was an alcoholic and drug abuser with a community reputation for having a temper and being untruthful.  This court detected numerous inconsistencies and improbable assertions.”

“We were just hoping the judge would be fair, and in the end he was,” Gondor said, “It’s a relief, a huge relief to have off your shoulders after 26 years of fighting this. In some way, shape or form, we’ve been fighting this for more than half our lives…I think it was just the entire case. They don’t have one.  They never had one…”

Portage County Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci said that prosecutors are reviewing the ruling, “While I certainly respect the judge’s opinion, I don’t share it.”  He said that his office will look for any “reversible error”, then consider appeal.

Resh was found not guilty at a retrial in 2007 and all charges were dropped against Gondor.

Resh said that he was “kind of speechless”, “I knew in the long run this would happen, but I had to hear it – just like in my [2007] trial and the not guilty verdict…”

Both men spent about 16 years in prison for a crime they did not commit.

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