AUGUSTA – The man who is accused of starting the fire that burned down a topless coffee shop in Vassalboro last year will be tried in Kennebec County.

A judge ruled Wednesday that the arson trial of Raymond Bellavance Jr., 49, of Winthrop will remain in the county where his alleged crime occurred.

Bellavance faces two charges of arson in the fire that leveled the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop.

The shop’s owner, Donald Crabtree, and six others, including two babies, were sleeping in a room connected to the shop at the time of the fire. Everyone escaped uninjured after passers-by noticed the fire and awakened them.

Bellavance’s attorney, Robert Ruffner, argued in Kennebec County Superior Court on Nov. 22 that pretrial publicity about Bellavance and the coffee shop with topless waitresses would make it too difficult to seat an unbiased jury.

Ruffner bolstered his claim by offering Justice Robert Murray eight editions of the Kennebec Journal, published from April 10 to July 29, with stories about Bellavance. In some of the articles, Bellavance was described as a jealous former boyfriend of one of the waitresses at the shop.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley, objected to moving the trial to a different county, saying almost every case goes to trial in the county where the alleged offenses occur. He also said the change-of-venue request was premature since there had been no attempt to pick a jury.

Murray sided with Kelley in denying Ruffner’s motion.

“This case has not yet appeared for jury selection, and thus the defendant does not, as of yet, assert actual prejudice,” Murray wrote.

Murray said the exhibits offered did not show media coverage so extensive that Bellavance could presume prejudice.

“All of the articles presented were at least four months prior to the date of this order, and will be even further removed in time from the date of jury selection in this matter,” he wrote. “Furthermore, the nature of the articles presented do not rise to the level sufficient to arouse general ill will and vindictiveness against the accused in this matter.”

He said Bellavance’s attorney could raise the issue of prejudice again in a future motion to change venue.