Virginia Beach, Va. (WTKR) – It took a jury just over two hours Tuesday afternoon to return a guilty verdict against Tonya Bundick in her second arson trial.
Bundick was on trial for a March 3, 2013 fire that occurred on Pungoteague Road outside of Keller.
The jury of 7 women and 5 men then deliberated for 45 minutes on a sentence for Bundick, coming back with a recommendation of 3 years, 6 months in prison plus a $10,000 fine.
It will be up to retired Accomack County Circuit Judge Glen Tyler to either accept that recommended sentence or change it when Bundick is formally sentenced on September 4 in Accomack County.
Tonya Bundick and her former fiancée Charlie Smith were arrested on April 1, 2013.
Virginia State Police said they were responsible for the majority of more than 70 arsons targeting unoccupied structures that had occurred in Accomack County between November 2012 and April 2013.
Charlie Smith entered a plea of guilty to 68 charges of arson and conspiracy to commit arson in October 2013 but has not yet been sentenced.
He confessed his role in the fires to investigators following his arrest in April 2013, however Bundick maintained she knew nothing about them.
Bundick and Smith were arrested after officers monitoring a home on Airport Drive in Melfa on April 1, 2013 spotted Smith run to the home, set something on fire and then run back and get into a van driven by Bundick.
At the onset, Bundick was only charged with arson and conspiracy to commit arson for that fire.
She went on trial in Virginia Beach in January 2014 after Judge Tyler approved a change of venue, saying it would be too hard to seat a jury in Accomack County since so many there were impacted by the fires either directly or indirectly.
That trial lasted two days, with Bundick changing her plea before the case went to the jury. She entered an Alford Plea, meaning she recognized there was enough evidence to convict her without admitting guilt.
She’s also expected to be sentenced on those charges on September 4.
In December 2013, the Accomack County Grand Jury indicted Bundick on 62 more counts of arson.
Following a motion by her defense team, Judge Tyler ruled each county must be tried separately.
The first of the trials of that indictment began Monday for the March 3, 2013 fire that destroyed a home used by farmer Richard Hall to house laborers.
Accomack County Commonwealth Attorney Gary Agar called 6 witnesses Monday, including Hall.
Volunteer firefighter Garret Brown described having efforts to fight the fire delayed by 20-25 minutes as investigators tried to gather evidence from the scene.
He admitted it didn’t much matter since the house was a total loss by the time they arrived and they were also waiting for the electric company to arrive and cut power.
Of the two Virginia State Police Special Agents who testified, agent Rob Barnes admitted on cross-examination that he was a distant cousin of Charlie Smith.
Barnes shared photographs he took of the house on fire he took when he arrived on scene.
Special Agent Scott Wade also took the stand, recounting a night in December 2013 where he saw Bundick and Smith out driving in Accomack County.
The most important witness for the Commonwealth though was Charlie Smith.
Wearing an orange prison jumpsuit, he didn’t make eye contact with Bundick as he walked into the courtroom.
In fact, he rarely looked in her direction the entire time he was on the witness stand.
He told jurors that on the night of March 3, 2013 he and Bundick had “rode around looking for a place to burn.”
He also referred to his one-time fiancée as “Ms. Bundick” when talking about her in court.
Smith said Bundick dropped him off at the home, where he ran inside and set cardboard boxes and deflated soccer balls on fire that he found in the attic area.
He claims he then called Bundick back and she picked him up “when the coast was clear.”
On the way home, Smith said the pair listened to the police and fire scanners using an app on Tonya’s phone.
During cross-examination, Smith said he was “obviously” trying to help himself by testifying and was “praying” for a lighter sentence as a result.
He said he’s still in love with Bundick and at one point exclaimed that he’d “probably wrap a sheet around his neck and jump off” something rather than live without her.
The last witness for the Commonwealth was George Floyd, a records custodian for Verizon Wireless, who testified about the calls made by Smith’s phone and Bundick’s phone the night of March 3, 2013.
The first defense witness was Reverend Frank Dickerson, called as a character witness.
He described knowing Tonya as someone who was “brutally honest” and would never set a fire.
Yet on cross-examination, he admitted he was now Bundick’s boyfriend.
Day two of the trial opened with the defense calling to the stand William Ashbrook, a convicted felon.
He shared a cell with Smith for nearly 7 months and said that Smith told him he took the reflectors off a bike belonging to Bundick’s son and rode that to set the fires so that he could easily get off the road and hide.
Ashbrook also testified that Smith told him he was impotent, but setting the fires excited him and made him able to perform sexually.
He also claimed that sheriff’s deputies would take Smith out the cell and he’d return smelling like cigarettes and Mountain Dew and that he was allowed to read Bundick’s incoming mail to “turn him against her.”
Bundick also took the stand in her own defense.
She talked about she had asked Smith to take a drug test at one point when they were living together because of his odd behavior and that he changed after his Mom died in May 2012.
On cross-examination, she admitted she’d never seen him leave the house on a bicycle and that while she still cared about Charlie, she no longer loved him.
Prosecutors asked her about vows that she and Charlie wrote for each other, as well as a plan to get a wedding ring from Smith’s sister.
In closing arguments, Commonwealth Attorney Gary Agar admitted Smith was probably not “the sharpest knife in the drawer” but said his testimony was truthful.
Allan Zaleski, Bundick’s defense attorney, offered a differing view, sharing “Charles Smith is a bad person” who doesn’t care who he hurts and said Agar was “a skilled character assassin.”
After slightly more than two hours of testimony, jurors returned a guilty verdict against Bundick.
The sentencing guidelines for arson called for a prison sentence of no less than 2 years in prison and no more than 10 years or the same prison time plus a fine not to exceed $100,000.
Jurors returned a recommended sentence of 3 years, 6 months in prison and a $10,000 fine after 45 minutes of deliberations.
No trial dates have been set yet for the remaining 61 counts of arson.