AUGUSTA – Questions remain about who owned the faded red, partially blackened 5-gallon gas can that was shown to jurors Wednesday as Raymond Bellavance Jr.’s arson trial opened in Kennebec County Superior Court.

It was one of dozens of items — mostly photographs — admitted as evidence. Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop, is charged with two counts of arson in the blaze that leveled the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro on June 23, 2009.

The container was not one of the gas cans that Joseph Murphy kept to fuel the lawn mower and other machinery he used to maintain the coffee shop grounds for the shop’s owner, Donald Crabtree.

Murphy and his fiancee, Crystal Crabtree, one of Donald Crabtree’s twin daughters, were among the seven people who were asleep in the building before they escaped the predawn blaze.

Bellavance’s DNA was not found on the gas can, which was found at the scene. The chief fire investigator in the case, Kenneth MacMaster of the state Fire Marshal’s Office, is the only person whose DNA cannot be excluded from what was found on the bottom of the gas can, according to information from previous hearings.

Investigators determined that the fire was set intentionally and that gasoline was used.

Robert Richards of the Belfast Ambulance Service testified that he saw a glow from behind the coffee shop — a former motel — as he drove east on Route 3 about 1 a.m.

He and emergency medical technician Shirley Rodgers radioed a fire report to their dispatchers in Waldo County, took photos of the fire and then alerted the people living there when they saw a truck parked out front.

The blaze happened hours after Crabtree appeared before Vassalboro’s planning board to request later hours at the shop and permission for his topless waitresses to dance.

Bellavance’s defense attorney, Andrews Campbell, told jurors in his opening statement that Bellavance did not set the fire and was unfairly targeted as a suspect because he lived nearby.

“We have one theory, and virtually no physical evidence connecting Mr. Bellavance with this crime,” Campbell said of the prosecution’s case.

“This, of course, was not a terribly popular establishment in town,” Campbell said. “That is the context in which this fire occurred.”

He said Bellavance “really likes kids and people” and is not the type of person to set a fire at night and endanger them.

Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley told jurors that it became evident early on that the fire started outside the building and was no accident.

Attention then turned to Bellavance, who was seeing one of the waitresses and had made it clear that he was unhappy with her working there. On March 9, 2009, a sheriff’s deputy responded to a complaint of harassment and issued a trespass warning telling Bellavance to stay away from the coffee shop.

“You’re going to hear there was a lot of anger, jealousy, a loss of control and a need to establish control over Raymond Bellavance’s girlfriend, Krista MacIntyre,” Kelley told jurors.

MacIntyre is expected to testify in the trial.

The trial is scheduled to resume at 9 a.m. today, but Justice Michaela Murphy told jurors that the time could change depending on weather.

Bellavance is charged with two counts of arson — one saying the fire was started intentionally, the other saying the blaze recklessly endangered people. Each count carries a maximum prison sentence of 30 years.

Bellavance, who has been in jail since he was arrested in May 2010 in South Carolina, wore a black suit, a white shirt with a black-and-white print tie and brown shoes as he sat at the defense table. He has insisted that he is innocent.

Bellavance spoke occasionally to his attorney while some witnesses responded to questions from Kelley.

Before jurors returned from a midafternoon break, the judge told Campbell to warn Bellavance against commenting aloud when witnesses spoke.

“I could hear him say, ‘Wow, wow,’” Murphy said. “He is to refrain from reacting to testimony. If I can hear, the jury can hear.”

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

[email protected]