AUGUSTA – It took all day Friday to select nine women and seven men from Kennebec County who will hear evidence in a trial scheduled to begin next week in which a Winthrop man is accused of burning down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro.

Raymond Bellavance Jr., 50, faces two counts of arson in the fire during the early morning of June 3, 2009.

Bellavance, who has been in jail for 18 months awaiting trial, has pleaded not guilty. One charge says he deliberately set the fire to cause damage, while the other says he recklessly endangered a person or property. Each charge carries a maximum penalty of 30 years in prison.

The owner of the coffee shop, Donald Crabtree, his two daughters, their boyfriends and the daughters’ two 4-month-old babies were in the building when the fire started. Everyone escaped unharmed after a passing ambulance crew noticed the fire and alerted them.

The trial is due to start Wednesday. The case has been high-profile, in large part because the opening of the coffee shop in February 2009 attracted national media attention.

Only 10 members of the juror pool of more than 120 stood when Justice Michaela Murphy asked who knew nothing about the case.

“Of those who know about the case, who believes they could not be fair and impartial both to the state or defense if they were selected in this case?” Murphy asked.

Nine people stood to tell her they could not. That left more than 100 people for the judge to question individually in a conference room as she sat with lawyers and the defendant, as well as court personnel.

Murphy read off a list of 94 potential witnesses, including firefighters, fire investigators, police, those who fled the fire, jail personnel and inmates, to ask whether jurors could treat their testimony impartially.

Six jurors indicated they had religious or moral views that would make it uncomfortable for them to judge testimony about nudity in a public establishment.

The final questions of the day concerned whether they could hear about allegations of domestic violence against Bellavance and not allow that to affect their judgment in the arson case.

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

[email protected]