VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — The woman accused of setting more than 60 fires on the Eastern Shore made a move in court Monday that some might find surprising.
Previously, Tonya Bundick and her former attorney fought for Bundick to be tried separately for each count of her 63-count indictment. In January, she entered an Alford plea on the first two charges: arson and conspiracy, stemming from an April 2013 incident.
Bundick appeared in court Monday morning for a jury trial on a third charge, but instead, she entered an Alford plea on the remaining 61 counts. The Alford plea means Bundick is not admitting guilt, but is pleading guilty with the acknowledgement that the Commonwealth has enough evidence to convince a jury of her guilt.
“It’s a long time in prison for her. Also, I wanted to address every victim, and this way, every victim’s issue is really addressed. She’s entered a guilty plea to each count,” explained Accomack County Commonwealth’s Attorney Gary Agar.
Of the 61 counts, 52 were felonies and nine were misdemeanors. Bundick will serve seven years for each felony and one year for each misdemeanor, but will serve them concurrently, thus her total sentence for Monday’s Alford plea is just seven years. That, added to the 10-and-a-half-year sentence she received in her previous trial, means Bundick will service 17 and a half years behind bars.
“I think for the citizens, it’s a relief. That was a horrendous crime that they committed over the course of a long period of time, and now she needs to spend a long period of time in the penitentiary because of what she did and to keep others from doing the same thing,” Agar explained.
The maximum sentence Bundick could have received, had she gone through the 62 separate trials, would have been 529 years behind bars.
Agar said it’s likely he would not have allowed the process to drag on for all of the trials. Instead, without the plea, he said he would have tried Bundick on a number of counts in separate trials until she was sentenced to enough time behind bars that he felt the punishment fit the crime. Though that may have ended up being more time in jail than the plea deal he agreed to, he said the plea deal does more for the victims.
“You know, I was going to be able to prosecute until I was satisfied with the amount of time, and then perhaps, I could let the other counts go. But that wouldn’t have been satisfactory to the other victims. This way every victim has been addressed because of the loss they suffered,” Agar said.
Bundick’s attorney did mention in court Monday she hoped the judge would keep in mind that none of the homes that burned had people living in them — they were all vacant. However, a victim told 10 On Your Side that doesn’t make the crime any less serious in his eyes.
“This house, and I’m sure many other houses on the Eastern Shore, have a story,” arson victim James Sample said. “This house is rich in family history, was bought for an aunt who raised my family and did so much for her family. And not living on the shore, but hearing how people were literally terrorized and people afraid for so long, it was important for me to be here.”
His family’s home was count number 53 on Bundick’s indictment.
Bundick is already in the process of appealing her first two convictions. Agar said she could also appeal Monday’s conviction.