AUGUSTA — Raymond Bellavance Jr. of Winthrop was found guilty Friday on two charges of arson in the fire that destroyed the Grand View Coffee Shop in Vassalboro in 2009.

The jury deliberated for about five hours Friday, the 10th day of Bellavance’s trial in Kennebec County Superior Court. The verdict came in at 5:50 p.m.

After the verdict, Justice Michaela Murphy ordered Bellavance held without bail and ordered attorneys to file sentencing memos by Feb. 3. The convictions on the two felony charges carry maximum penalties of 30 years each.

Bellavance, 50, showed no reaction when the guilty verdicts were read. He was animated during the trial, pointing out things to his attorney, Andrews Campbell, and occasionally thumping a finger on a document.

“We’ll be looking at the evidence and the rulings, and there’s a strong likelihood an appeal will be filed in due course,” Campbell said after the verdict.

The prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley, said he was grateful to the jury for the verdict and the fire marshals and investigators who worked on the case.

“We felt from the beginning it was a very strong case,” Kelley said.

Bellavance fled Maine when he was first charged with arson in April 2010. He was extradited back to the state and was in jail for 20 months awaiting trial.

The coffee shop on Route 3, which featured topless waitresses serving coffee and doughnuts, attracted national media attention before the blaze. The business, owned by Donald Crabtree, opened in February 2009 and sparked controversy in the small town and beyond, leading Vassalboro to pass an ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses.

The shop operated out of a former motel. Crabtree, his two daughters, their boyfriends and two young children 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. All seven escaped without injury.

After the fire, Crabtree operated the business out of a commercial trailer on the same property and began to rebuild, but he sold the property last month.

Bellavance had a run-in with Crabtree at the coffee shop on March 9, 2009, and Crabtree got a court order to keep Bellavance off the premises. In the trial, Kelley maintained that Bellavance’s purpose that day was to get Krista MacIntyre, his sometime girlfriend, fired from her job as a topless waitress.

A sheriff’s deputy testified that Bellavance told him he believed MacIntyre was engaging in prostitution and illegal drugs at the coffee shop, an allegation MacIntyre denied on the stand. She also said she was frequently fired and then rehired by Crabtree, with whom she also had a sexual relationship.

Kelley said Bellavance saw MacIntyre — on a night she had agreed to be with Bellavance — in a parking lot in Augusta, talking to a man who was a frequent customer of the coffee shop.

In closing arguments Friday, Kelley said Bellavance was fueled by a combination of anger and jealousy.

The chief witness against Bellavance was Thomas Mulkern, 26, of Augusta, who testified that his girlfriend, Emma Wood, drove the two men and two gasoline cans to the coffee shop during the early morning of June 3, 2009.

Mulkern said he watched Bellavance pour gasoline on the back of the coffee shop and then light the gas with his lighter. He said the two men fought after Mulkern learned there were people in the building. Then they fled through nearby woods, believing police were chasing them.

Mulkern got immunity from prosecution for his role in the fire and for his drug use, which he said included injections of cocaine and other drugs. He recently completed a substance abuse rehabilitation program in jail and was released last week.

Mulkern said he confessed last week to his role in the fire to clear his conscience.

Bellavance, who testified Thursday in his own defense, denied being jealous or possessive of MacIntyre.

He testified that he was out with friends on the morning of the fire, intending to plant marijuana nearby, when their van got a flat tire.

“Proximity doesn’t make you guilty of a crime,” Campbell told jurors in defending his client. “It comes down to credibility. Do you believe Ray or do you believe Mulkern?”

Campbell said Bellavance feared he was being framed, so he went to South Carolina before his arrest to gain time to prepare a defense.

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

[email protected]

 


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