Akron Beacon Journal

Dec. 27, 2006

Gondor and Resh get new trials

Supporters hope two Portage County men will soon be released on bond after spending more than 16 years in prison for a murder they say they didn't commit.

The Ohio Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously reversed an appeals court's decision and ordered new trials for Randy Resh and Bob Gondor.

Knowing a decision would be coming this week, Gondor called a longtime family friend, Patty Vechery of Chardon, from Grafton Correctional Institution about 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, and she told him of the news.

``It just felt great,'' Gondor said in a telephone interview from the prison. ``When she told me it was a unanimous decision, it was the best news we could have hoped for.''

Gondor broke the news to Resh, his lifelong friend. They have been housed together in the same pod at Grafton for the last several years.

``I just looked at him and said: `We won,' '' Gondor said.

The two expect to be transferred to the Portage County Jail. A hearing probably will be held in early January in Portage County Common Pleas Court on whether they should be released on bond -- as they were before their original trials in 1990.

``It's like we're going back to the beginning,'' said Jim Gondor, Bob Gondor's brother, who lives in Florida. ``I don't see why they shouldn't be given the same bond. I'm hopeful.''

Portage Prosecutor Victor Vigluicci, however, said his office would oppose bond. He said his staff will begin locating and interviewing witnesses and reviewing evidence with the Portage sheriff's office to prepare for a new trial.

``This is a difficult position to be in,'' Vigluicci said. ``We must put together a case that happened nearly 20 years ago. That's the position the Supreme Court has put us in.''

If the men aren't released on bond, they will be held in the Portage jail pending their new trial.

Details of case

Resh and Gondor were tried separately and convicted of participating in the August 1988 kidnapping, attempted rape and murder of Connie Nardi, 31, of Randolph Township.

Troy Busta of Hiram, the first man charged in the case, agreed to plead guilty to a lesser charge to avoid the death penalty. He provided testimony that implicated Resh and Gondor.

Since then, Resh and Gondor, who have maintained their innocence, have fought for another day in court.

The men won a victory in June 2002, when visiting Judge Charles Bannon nullified their convictions, granting them new trials based on ineffective counsel. The judge based his decision on how the original lawyers failed to present several key pieces of evidence that could have exonerated them.

The evidence included suspected bloodstains found on Gondor's truck bed liner. A forensic test concluded that the body fluid was probably perspiration, not blood.

The 11th District Court of Appeals ruled in December 2004 that Bannon was wrong to order new trials.

Case appealed

Gondor and Resh, now 42 and 43, appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court, which heard arguments on Jan. 25.

Justice Paul Pfeiffer wrote the 23-page decision that was released Tuesday. He listed the evidence that Gondor's and Resh's defense attorneys didn't present during their original trials, which was the basis for Bannon's order for new trials.

Pfeiffer quoted from Bannon's decision, which said, ``Had such evidence been disclosed to the juries that decided these cases, there is a reasonable probability that the result of the proceedings would have been different. Certainly the juries should have been given this evidence for their consideration for their verdicts to be worthy of confidence.''

Pfeiffer and the other justices sided with Bannon over the appeals court.

``The trial court properly weighed the credibility of the evidence, properly found that the defendants had set forth sufficient operative facts to obtain postconviction relief, and properly issued sufficient findings of fact and conclusions of law,'' Pfeiffer wrote. ``Accordingly, we conclude that the trial court did not abuse its discretion when it found that Resh and Gondor received ineffective assistance of counsel, vacated the convictions and sentences, and ordered new trials.''

Resh and Gondor's family and friends were elated when they heard about the decision. Mike Resh, Randy Resh's brother, left his job early Tuesday to go home and field phone calls from well-wishers.

``We're definitely excited,'' Mike Resh said. ``It's been a long time since we got good news.''

Resh called the decision ``a good holiday present for us all.''

Original decision backed

Vigluicci, who was not the original prosecutor, said his office is standing behind the case. He said the speedy trial requirement will not apply to the new trial and the state will have ``a reasonable'' amount of time to get ready.

``That will take us some time,'' he said.

Gregory Robey, Resh's attorney, could not be reached for comment.

Steven Bradley, Gondor's Cleveland attorney, agreed that trial preparation probably will take ``a number of months.''

``This is a monumental task for both sides to ramp back up and try this to a jury again,'' he said.

Bradley likes their chances in a new trial.

``I know we're dealing with somebody's life here, so I don't want to overstate anything,'' he said. ``I feel like there's a very high degree of probability that a jury, when they consider all this new evidence, will give an acquittal.''

Excited about ruling

Gondor, who has acted as spokesman on the case for his friend, said they were ``just tremendously excited.''

``But we're still here and we'd like to get this moving,'' he said. ``This has been a tremendously long road through the appellate courts, so I don't really know if it will hit us until they remove us from here.''

The next step, Gondor said, will be taken by their lawyers, who are expected to file motions this week in Portage County Common Pleas Court seeking bail.

Gondor said the first thing he plans to do if released will be to visit his father's grave at Westlawn Cemetery in Mantua.

His father, a machinist until he was incapacitated in an auto accident in 1997, died in 2002, four months before Bannon issued his new trial orders.

But even after the accident, Gondor said, his father would get friends to drive him for prison visits nearly every week.

``It didn't matter if I was at Mansfield, Lima or here. He came as often as he could. My dad was there for me every single day of my incarceration until he passed away,'' Gondor said, ``and I owe it to him to go there immediately, because he never got to see all of this.''

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