Locals rally around Bunch

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 17, 2006

AHOSKIE – Family, friends and community leaders met Saturday to garner support for James Garfield Bunch.

Bunch, who also goes by the name &uot;Hassan&uot;, was sentenced in 1990 to 52 years in prison for two first-degree kidnapping charges as well as a charge of receiving stolen goods.

The North Carolina Department of Corrections web site states that Bunch’s earliest scheduled release date is April 2013.

Bunch’s family contends that he did not receive a fair trial and was denied proper counsel.

Bunch’s wife, June, and sister-in-law, Sharon Bunch, organized the event, held at the R.L. Vann School with the assistance of an organizing committee headed by Michael Muhammad.

Carl White, president of the Hertford County NAACP, was in attendance as well as Nation of Islam Minister David Muhammad of Muhammad’s Mosque #34 in Durham.

Muhammad asserted that Bunch did deserve to be sentenced to prison, but the judge who presided over the trial, Thomas Watts, now deceased, had a personal vendetta against Bunch.

&uot;Mr. Bunch was the victim of an arbitrary denial of a continuance,&uot; Muhammad stated. &uot;We will request that Mr. Bunch be afforded a new trial or be released with time served.&uot;

Muhammad said that Bunch was forced to represent himself after Watts denied him a continuance, which forced Bunch to go to trial without preparation or an attorney.

Muhammad also accused Watts of ‘abuse of judicial discretion’ claiming that by sentencing Bunch to three sentences and not having them run concurrently, Bunch was being punished more harshly than offenders who had been sentenced under similar convictions.

North Carolina law states that it is a judge’s discretion whether or not to allow a defendant a continuance, except in the defendant’s first appearance where the presiding district attorney has the authorization to allow a continuance.

The Department of Corrections states that prior to his sentencing for the kidnapping and receiving stolen goods charges, Bunch had previously been convicted of armed robbery, escape and possession of a controlled substance.

Transcripts of Bunch’s trial, as well as speeches from White and David Muhammad highlighted Muhammad’s presentation.

&uot;Today’s prisons are the new plantations,&uot; White said to the approximately 50 people who attended the event. &uot;Murderers have done less time than Mr. Bunch.&uot;