Jury recommends sentence in Eastern Shore arson case

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) – A Virginia Beach jury has found accused Eastern Shore arsonist Tonya Bundick guilty of one case of arson, out of more than 60.

After the verdict took just over two hours of deliberation, the jury recommended she serve 3.5 years in prison and pay a $10,000 fine for her role in a fire set on March 3, 2013. Bundick will be formally sentenced for the fire on September 4 and a judge could alter the sentence, Accomack County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Agar said.

Prosecutors say Bundick set fire to dozens of abandoned buildings across the Eastern Shore in 2012 and 2013. Bundick’s attorney previously asked for separate jury trials for each of the fires, which the judge allowed. She was arraigned on 61 of the counts on May 16, and pleaded not guilty to them all.

On Tuesday, Bundick took the stand in her own defense on day two of her second trial. Bundick said she didn’t remember what happened that day in March and that nothing significant came to mind. She said she did not tell her co-defendant and former fiance, Charles Smith III, to light the fire.

During her testimony, Bundick also talked about her relationship with Smith. She said she wrote letters to Smith from prison about exchanging vows and getting a ring, but that they talked about getting married before she was arrested.

“I still loved Charlie up until this had happened,” she said. She did not show much emotion on the stand or when the verdict was read.

Smith, who took the stand on Monday, has already pleaded guilty to more than 60 acts of arson and could face a sentence of 500 years or more in prison. He testified that Bundick dropped him off and picked him up from the fire on March 3 and that she seemed to be in a better mood when he set fires.

Prosecutors said cell phone records revealed Bundick and Smith’s phones were near the crime scene at the time of the fire and that the two appeared to have a seven-minute phone conversation. Smith said he and Bundick listened to a scanner on her phone for any reports of fires on the way home.

Prosecutors on Tuesday were not allowed to ask Bundick about her conviction in January. She was convicted of one count of arson and one count of conspiracy in connection to a different case. A judge ruled that case is incomplete because she has not yet been sentenced. That sentencing is also scheduled for September 4.

William Ashbrook, a former cellmate of Smith’s, also testified on Tuesday. Ashbrook said Smith told him setting fires helped him with impotence. He testified that Smith told him he would remove the reflectors from Bundick’s son’s bicycle and use it to get away unnoticed from the scene of fires he had set. Ashbrook also said Smith believed he would have a better chance with his case, if he testified against Bundick.

Rick Hall, owner of the company that owns the building that burned on March 3, said the outcome of the trial gave him some satisfaction.

“I wanted to see justice done,” he said.

The building was a house he had used for farm workers in the past, and he estimated it was worth around $25,000 when it burned down.

“I would say it was a bad feeling,” Hall said. “It wasn’t the only labor house I had, but it wasn’t one that I intended to burn down.”

Accomack County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Agar declined to comment after the trial.

Defense attorney A. Christopher Zaleski said Bundick was disappointed with the outcome of the trial. He said sentencing in September could affect how the defense team proceeds with future trials.

“I anticipate that Judge Tyler will accept the jury’s recommendation of three and a half years,” he said. “The judge will have broad discretion to sentence her on the two Alford pleas, and then we anticipate future trials with the same evidence with Charles Smith being essentially the beginning and end of the testimony for the Commonwealth.”

Defense attorney Allan Zaleski said he did not know when the next trial would be scheduled, but he expected to hold about four per year. At that rate, it would take approximately 16 years to carry out the rest of Bundick’s trials.

Stay with WAVY News 10 for the latest developments.

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