Bunting, a Jamaican man who was framed in 2013 in the US, spent 10 months in jail and faced 32 years to life imprisonment.
After 16 felony charges, 10 despairing months in the Lee County Jail under maximum security, and a two-and-a-half-year-long trial, Bunting, a father of five, was found not guilty on all counts after his accuser admitted to lying and fabricating the story.
Bunting, of Brandon Hill, St Andrew, went to the US to work at age 20. Thirteen years after, he was falsely accused because a business competitor wanted to shut down his security company, and the accuser was paid to make up a story about his involvement in a crime. He faced charges of extortion, conspiracy, kidnapping, and intent to murder.
“We were held in maximum security. You only see the light of day for one hour, once a week. Once a week they bring you onto the roof and you can see the sky. The sides are all walls and they go very high, so you don't see much of a life outside of the individuals that are inside with you. But there was this one day when we saw a fly in the cell. Everyone was excited about the fly. We were wondering how the fly got in there… where did the fly find a crack to come through. I got hopeful. I was in there with a lot of guys who gave up on the system,” Bunting, 42, said in an interview with the Jamaica Observer.
“When I first got out of jail I was still waiting on trial. I was in there for 10 months. [Along] with that [and] the 16 felony charges that were hanging over my head, it brought me a lot of challenges when I got out because no one would hire me. And now, I don't even have my business. I had to close it when I was in there because I was losing so much money. The journey was challenging. It's rough. I'm just grateful that I was able to make it through it and stay headstrong, so I didn't break.”
It all began one Friday afternoon in July 2013 when Bunting, 33 at the time, was driving with a friend. They were stopped by the police.
Bunting was taken into custody based on false reports that he along with two other men had targeted a man in Georgia who owed them money.
The police, having believed the accusations, reported that Bunting and the other men intended to kidnap the victim and any of his employees who got in the way. The police also said that if the victim failed to comply with their demands after being abducted, Bunting and the men would've tortured him and killed him if necessary.
“The mental part of it is serious. If you're not structured as an individual where your mind is developed in certain ways, you will get lost quickly. God showed me favor and the guy told the people in court that he was paid to do what he did and it went very well. I was found not guilty on all 16 charges,” Bunting told the Sunday Observer.
But before everything came to light, he said his family took a big hit.
“My mother was devasted and for my dad, he was saying that I shouldn't have let what happened to me happen… he is that old-school Jamaican dad. It was a tough love type of approach. We went through some things, and I lost a lot in the process.”
Day by day inside the jail, hope dwindled.
“I was most definitely terrified. I felt defeated, and my attorney told me that it was very racially driven and it was not looking good. My attorney told me that they want to get me out of the picture. I was discouraged right there. The system was still pushing… they were still trying to create something that was not there to put me away.
“I believe in God. I was like 'Okay Father God, if you decide that you're going to put me in prison because I need to bring a message to them inside the prison, then I will understand — but yuh see that mi yutes them need me.' I reasoned with Him,” said Bunting.
In October 2015 he was found not guilty and was released from jail. His record was expunged the following year.
But during the fight to clear his name and return to his family, Bunting lost hundreds of thousands of dollars to pay for legal fees. But, he still didn't sell himself out when deals were thrown at him.
“They tried to offer me a five-year plea deal and I was like, 'This doesn't make any sense. I didn't do anything but you guys want me to go to prison and do time.' I was discouraged but I fought through it and I held my own hands. My boys were coming to visit me every Friday, and I only got to see them on a TV screen. That kind of kept me fighting,” he recalled.
“They dragged the case for two and a half years; I kept going to pre-conference trials. My case was the oldest case here, which was one of the reasons they got pressure to go to trial.”
Bunting told the Sunday Observer that knowing he was innocent and yet having to endure the reality of prison was painful. He said he existed in a space where some inmates would create relationships in their heads with the women who would take food to their cells.
“When they see the women they [masturbate] and all these different, disgusting things. I remember watching two dudes fight because one was looking at a woman and the other was like 'You're looking at my girl.' They fought for that. Mi used to seh 'A wah do dem man yah.' ”
The food, he added, was inhumane.
“They put water and breadcrumbs in the egg to stretch the egg, to make sure that everyone in the cell gets. I didn't eat a lot of the food in there. You would get chicken on a Wednesday and that was a rough day for a lot of the guys. If you don't know how to fight, the guys that can fight are taking your chicken. And to not get beat up, some guys had to give certain guys their chicken. When I came out, I weighed about 190 pounds and I am six feet one,” he said.
He also shared the pain of losing another Jamaican he had met inside the jail. If inmates were caught in fights, they would be isolated in a dark box for 30 to 60 days as punishment, he said. The warders would also check the inmates' knuckles for any redness or swelling to suggest that the inmate had been in a fight. He said his Jamaican friend was subjected to the box for 90 days and after that period, “He lost his mind. He got crazy. It broke him. It is like a little cell. You don't see anything in there. After that, he was taken to a home.”
Despite all that, Bunting told the Sunday Observer that the most intense experience was the day his verdict was to be read.
In his mind, he said, he knew he was going to be free that day. His sons were in the courtroom and his family was watching. However, for a split second, uncertainty clouded his thoughts.
“I had a light little doubt. The way they were treating the situation… even after the guy came forward and told the truth, they continued the trial, and they still gave him the last say to the jury. But when the jury came back and they all voted not guilty to every single thing, there was a relief. With the relief that I had, I was like I am just going to take my boys out and we are going to have ice cream or whatever,” he related.
“I was thinking all these things in my head. When it was done, it was beautiful. We celebrated and it was a joy. Some people came to apologize for making the judgment from what they were told and stuff like that, and it was beautiful.”
Today, Bunting is a motivational speaker and author of two books entitled Escaping a Life Sentence and Escaping the Darkness - using adversity to find purpose. Both went to #1 on Amazon. He now uses his story to inspire and empower youth and ex-convicts trying to re-enter society.
He has also launched a non-profit organization called Everyone Has a Story (EHAS), which is currently raising funds for Sunbeam Children's Home and Manning's Boys' Home.
He told the Sunday Observer that everything he has gained today outweighs everything he has lost.
“This time that I had in jail, it took away the security company that I thought would be massive right now. But the company would've steered me away from my purpose right now which is to help mindsets positively… telling the stories and putting out stories, which is a big part of what my non-profit organization is about.”