Wednesday, June 19, 2013
AUGUSTA — Raymond Bellavance Jr. will spend 30 years in prison for starting a midnight blaze in June 2009 that forced seven people — including two infants — from their home and eventually destroyed the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro.
Raymond Bellavance, 51, is seen during his sentencing hearing Thursday in Kennebec County Superior Court.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
30 YEARS: Raymond Bellavance, 51, was sentenced to 30 years in prison Thursday at Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta for starting a midnight blaze in June 2009 that forced seven people, including two infants, from their home and eventually destroyed the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro.
Staff photo by Andy Molloy
Bellavance, 51, of Winthrop, was convicted Dec. 30, 2011, of two counts of arson in the torching of the coffee shop on June 3, 2009. Each arson count carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison, but they were merged into one because it was the same criminal event, the judge said.
Justice Michaela Murphy, who had presided over the 10-day jury trial, imposed the sentence Thursday in Kennebec County Superior Court in front of a a dozen investigators, eight reporters and television crews and a six other people – one of them his daughter, father and uncle.
Bellavance steadfastly maintains he is not guilty and is being railroaded.
“My name has been driven into the minds of the public as a monster convicted of arson,” he said in a letter to the Kennebec Journal sent May 1 and distributed at the hearing on Thursday.
Instead of the suit jacket and tie he wore in front of the jury, Bellavance on Thursday had on a green jail uniform over a long-sleeved gray sweatshirt. He sat at a table between his two defense attorneys, and he did not address the judge at the sentencing hearing.
He’s now pinned his hopes on the court of appeal and on the court of public opinion, saying, “The people that believe in their Constitutional Rights of the United States should know that I have been mistreated and violated by what we call the justice system.”
Murphy already rejected a bid from Bellavance for a new trial as well as a motion for acquittal. The defense attorney on Thursday spoke of appealing the verdict and the sentence.
The prosecutor, Acting District Attorney Alan Kellley, characterized Bellavance as incorrigible and recommended he spend the full 30 years behind bars.
“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 at Thursday's hearing.
Defense attorney Andrews Campbell, however, suggested a 10-year sentence, with half that suspended, saying that would allow Bellavance to pay restitution.
“Putting him in jail for life will totally institutionalize a very viable individual,” Campbell said.
Five people spoke to the judge to support the defense argument for a lesser term.
Bellavance's father, Raymond Bellavance Sr., told the judge his son would not set a fire that could harm children.
“No friggin way, no way, not kids,” Bellavance Sr., said.
Donald Crabtree opened the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in February 2009. It drew national media attention to the rural 4,300-person community, prompting the town and many others in central Maine to adopt new rules regulating sex-oriented businesses. Crabtree, his two daughters, their infant children and the daughters' boyfriends, all lived in one wing of the building which formerly operated as a motel.
Crabtree, who had no insurance on the building and later sold the property, declined to submit a request for restitution, Kelley told the judge. However, three fire departments submitted costs that totaled $16,635.
Even after Bellavance was convicted, Crabtree remained unconvinced Bellavance was the arsonist.
“I've got no closure for sure,” Crabtree said in early January.
On Thursday, Kelley noted that Crabtree had not cooperated with the prosecution in the case.