AUGUSTA – Raymond Bellavance Jr. will spend 30 years in prison for starting a fire in June 2009 that destroyed the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro and forced seven people — including two infants — to flee their attached home.

Justice Michaela Murphy imposed the maximum sentence in Kennebec County Superior Court on Thursday.

“In the view of this court, the defendant presents a profound threat to public safety and has demonstrated that on multiple occasions,” said Murphy, who presided over the 10-day jury trial that resulted in Bellavance’s conviction Dec. 30 on two counts of arson. Each count carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, but they will be served concurrently.

The Grand View — which featured topless waitresses serving coffee and doughnuts in a former motel on Route 3 — drew national media attention to the rural, 4,300-person community, prompting Vassalboro and many other central Maine communities to adopt new rules regulating sex-oriented businesses.

Bellavance has maintained he is not guilty. As he left the courtroom, Bellavance, 51, of Winthrop, said a key witness who testified against him was “nothing but a liar” and he called the court “as corrupt as can be.”

Acting District Attorney Alan Kelley characterized Bellavance as incorrigible and recommended the 30-year sentence.

“He is a very bad man who committed a very bad crime completely in character with what he has been and done his entire life,” Kelley said.

Defense attorney Andrews Campbell suggested a 10-year sentence, with half suspended, saying that would enable Bellavance to pay restitution. He also said Bellavance needs treatment for substance abuse and other problems.

“Putting him in jail for life will totally institutionalize a very viable individual,” Campbell said Thursday. He spoke of appealing the verdict and sentence.

Instead of the suit jacket and tie he wore during the jury trial, Bellavance on Thursday had on a green jail uniform over a long-sleeved gray sweatshirt. He did not address the judge at the sentencing hearing, which was attended by his daughter, his father and his uncle, as well as investigators, reporters and television crews.

Kelley argued during the trial that Bellavance, who recently had been released from jail around the time of the fire, had rekindled a sexual relationship with waitress Krista MacIntyre and disliked the fact that she worked topless at the coffee shop.

On the night of June 2-3, 2009, Bellavance got cocaine in Augusta, found a ride to his daughter’s home there, and then enlisted a co-conspirator, Thomas Mulkern, to help him burn the shop, Kelley said.

Mulkern, who received immunity from prosecution in exchange for his testimony, said he watched Bellavance light the fire and then fought with him after learning that people were living in the former motel connected to the coffee shop.

Coffee shop owner Donald Crabtree and the others escaped unharmed after an ambulance crew driving past on Route 3 raised the alarm.

Investigators first questioned Bellavance — who was by then jailed on another charge — about the blaze 10 months later. As soon as he was released, Bellavance fled to South Carolina, claiming he worried about being framed for the arson. He was captured there and returned to Maine.

Murphy said fire photos submitted at the trial were “frankly terrifying” and added that the blaze could have resulted in multiple deaths.

“It was a matter of sheer luck that night for the seven people sleeping there that an ambulance happened to be passing by just as the conflagration began,” Murphy said.

Crabtree, who opened the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in February 2009, did not attend the sentencing hearing.

Crabtree, his two daughters, their infant children and the daughters’ boyfriends all lived in one wing of the building. Crabtree had no insurance on his building when it burned to the ground. He reopened the business briefly in a commercial trailer on site, but later sold the property and moved to Greenbush.

Reached later Thursday by phone, Crabtree said he didn’t attend the hearing because “I’m done with it. The district attorney ain’t helping me at all, so I’m no longer interested.” He described Bellavance’s sentence as “a little harsh” and said he remains unconvinced Bellavance is guilty.

On Thursday, Kelley said Crabtree had not cooperated with the prosecution in the case.

Crabtree declined to submit a request for restitution, Kelley told the judge, although Crabtree said later Thursday that he was never asked to do so.

Three fire departments submitted costs that totaled $16,635. Murphy ordered Bellavance to pay that as restitution.

Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

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