Raymond Bellavance Jr. consistently has denied that he burned down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro 3½ years ago, but jurors convicted him of arson.
Now Bellavance is appealing his conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case next month in Portland.
Bellavance, 51, formerly of Winthrop, is serving his 30-year sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren and is represented in the appeal by attorney Andrews Campbell, who defended him at trial.
Just before his sentencing, Bellavance weighed in early on his appeal, in a letter mailed to the Kennebec Journal and distributed at his sentencing hearing. In it, he claims to be a victim of a corrupt justice system and, at the least, “sloppy police work.”
Bellavance’s hearing before the high court is scheduled for Feb. 12. The legal arguments filed with the appeal outline the crime and the events that occurred during hearings and during the 10 days of the trial in December 2011.
The coffee shop on Route 3 in Vassalboro featured topless waitresses and waiters serving coffee and doughnuts, and drew national media attention. The business, owned by Donald Crabtree, opened in February 2009 and sparked controversy in the community and beyond, later prompting Vassalboro and other communities to pass municipal ordinances regulating sexually oriented businesses.
The coffee shop operated in a former motel. Seven people — Crabtree, his two daughters, their infant children and their boyfriends — were sleeping there on the night of the fire, which was reported just before 1 a.m. on June 3, 2009, by a passing ambulance crew. Everyone escaped the gasoline-fueled blaze without injury.
After the fire, Crabtree ran the business in a commercial trailer on the same property and began to rebuild. He sold the property in November 2011 and moved to Greenbush.
The prosecution argued at trial that Bellavance burned the coffee shop because of his jealousy over Krista MacIntyre, a waitress there who was dating Bellavance as well as Crabtree and a third man. Bellavance’s estranged wife testified that Bellavance threatened to set fire to the coffee shop to stop MacIntyre from working there.
Bellavance testified that he and MacIntyre were “friends with benefits,” hanging out together and having occasional, casual sex. He denied the jealousy motive.
He testified that he was seen in the area of the coffee shop early on the day it burned because he and some friends were going to plant marijuana along a road that ran off Route 3, but were unable to do so because their van had a flat tire.
Campbell’s written filings allege seven areas in which errors occurred in the case, including:
• Improper indictment on two counts of arson for the same offense, making Bellavance subject to double jeopardy. The prosecution claims that was not the case and says, “The sentencing court appropriately merged the two counts into one conviction and imposed one sentence,” so Bellavance was not harmed.
• Denial of a fair trial because a defense witness, Thomas Mulkern, changed his story and testified against Bellavance after receiving immunity from prosecution. Mulkern testified that he watched Bellavance pour the gasoline on the building and set it on fire.
• Refusal to grant a mistrial or motions to dismiss on the basis of evidence that was withheld from the defense.
• Denial of a fair trial because of extensive publicity before and during the trial. Campbell sought a change of venue, which was denied.
Kennebec Journal Staff Writer Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at: