Dispatch, March 20, 1889

The Prisoner Admits Being Accessory Before the Act.

Moral -- Vandalism

[Special telegram to the Dispatch.]

Eastville, VA., March 19. -- The trial of J. J. Bunting for firing and procuring one Samuel Roane to set the fire to and burn his (Bunting's) property in Cape Charles in January last was called to-day. The prisoner pleaded not guilty to the charge in the indictment. The entire morning was spent in securing a jury, two ..... having to be summoned. After a jury had been empannelled the Commonwealth introduced three witnesses to prove the confession of Bunting as to having hired Roane to fire the building, as well as to prove the fact of burning, the object of which was to defraud the Virginia Fire and Marine Insurance Company, they having a policy of $4,000 on the building.

The prisoner, who was represented by Messrs. Neely, Fitchett, and Mears, was then placed upon the stand by the defence. He testified that he did hire and procure Roane to fire the building, as stated in his previous confession, saying that he was embarrassed by creditors for a long time previous, that his mind had become unbalanced, and that he was determined to do something to get rid of their importunities, and resolved that the best thing to do was to get the insurance. In addition to that he testified that he had much family trouble, which, added to the financial trouble, caused him to become reckless and he thought at one time of taking his life and thus end his career.

Two other witnesses were introduced to prove his previous good character; which closed the testimony.

At 3:30 P. M. argument before the jury was commenced. E. J. Spady opened for the State in a speech of one hour, and was followed by Judge William T. Fitchett in a speech of an hour. Hon. John Neely, of Norfolk, closed for the defence in an eloquent appeal, lasting an hour, setting forth the utter impossibility for a sane man to be guilty of such a crime, and committed under such extraordinary circumstances.

Bunting's wife and two children were present, which added solemnity to the occasion and created much sympathy for the prisoner, who sat near them and wept most of the time.

At the close of Mr. Neely's address he was loudly and vociferously applauded, and it was some time before the officers of the court could command silence, when the Court spoke in plain terms that the like must not occur again.

Mr. Spady then closed for the State in a strong and powerful speech of an hour.

The case was given to the jury at 7:45 P. M. At 8:30 they reported that there was no probability of their agreeing to-night, when the court was adjourned until to-morrow, and the jury placed in the hands of the officers of the court.

As previously reported in these columns Bunting was an influential and highly-respected citizen of Cape Charles and owned valuable property there, and it was a shock to the entire community when it became known that he was the instigator of the crime. Much of his indebtedness was in Baltimore, where he enjoyed good credit, and no suspicion was entertained even by them but that he was an honorable, upright citizen. The property has since been sold and his creditors made secure.

March 20, 1889