The man convicted of burning down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro has lost his bid to overturn that conviction.

Raymond Bellavance Jr., 52, of Winthrop, was convicted of arson in the June 3, 2009 blaze which forced the owner and six family members, including two infants, to flee from their rooms at the former motel.

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court rejected Bellavance’s appeal in a unanimous decision Thursday.

Bellavance consistently has denied setting the fire that destroyed the coffee shop on Route 3, which featured topless waitresses and waiters serving coffee and doughnuts. The controversial shop attracted worldwide media attention when it opened and led to several communities passing local rules about sexually oriented businesses.

Bellavance — who authorities said was upset that his sometimes girlfriend was a topless waitress there and was having sex with the owner — is serving a 30-year prison sentence.

Bellavance’s attorney, Andrews Campbell, said Thursday that Bellavance was aware his appeal had been denied.

“It’s always tough to lose them, and it’s especially tough for the litigant,” Campbell said. “I think it’s counterproductive to put people away so long.”

Bellavance had claimed he was deprived of his constitutional protection against double jeopardy because he was charged with two counts of arson for the same fire.

He also claimed he was harmed at the trial because an anticipated defense witness, Thomas Mulkern, instead testified that he helped carry gasoline cans and watched Bellavance pour out the gas and light the fire behind the building. The fire was reported by a passing ambulance crew, who also woke the building’s occupants.

Mulkern received immunity from prosecution for his role in the fire in exchange for his testimony.

The state supreme court’s decision, written by Associate Justice Jon Levy, said the trial judge, Justice Michaela Murphy, “averted any violation of Bellavance’s double jeopardy rights” by consolidating the two arson charges and sentencing him on only one count.

Levy also wrote that the prosecution properly disclosed information about Mulkern’s testimony when it learned about it and that the defense had time to prepare for it.

Murphy suspended the trial for one day so the defense lawyers could question Mulkern prior to his testifying.

“In short, Bellavance fails to identify any actual prejudice caused by not having additional time to prepare for Mulkern’s testimony,” Levy wrote.

Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, who argued that the conviction should stand, was attending a domestic-violence conference outside of Maine on Thursday and was unavailable for comment on the decision.

 

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

badams@centralmaine.com