AUGUSTA — Raymond Bellavance Jr., who’s serving 30 years in prison for burning down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro in 2009, took the witness stand Wednesday to argue for a new trial.

Among other complaints about his trial five years ago, Bellavance contends that his attorney was ineffective in many areas. Bellavance, 55, formerly of Winthrop, was at the Capital Judicial Center on Wednesday with the attorneys representing him now, Verne Paradie Jr. and Patrick Nickerson.

Bellavance was convicted on two counts of arson for setting fire to the coffee shop, which operated out of an old motel on Route 3. The owner, Donald 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.

At trial, prosecutors said Bellavance set the fire because he was angry that his girlfriend was waitressing at the shop and dating the owner.

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

On the witness stand, Bellavance questioned the state’s grant of immunity to Thomas J. Mulkern Jr., 30, who testified at trial 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.

“He didn’t commit the arson and neither did I,” Bellavance said.

Bellavance said the state’s fire investigator fed details about the blaze to Mulkern, and that transcripts of recorded interviews between the two would support that point. He also said the Vassalboro Fire Department’s time-stamped phone records about that night would support his alibi that he was actually in Augusta when the fire started.

Bellavance also argued that the trial judge was unduly concerned about time, and pressured the jury by twice walking into the jury room, and that his attorney, Andrews Campbell, failed to follow Bellavance’s order to object to it.

Bellavance also testified that Campbell should have had DNA tests done on four items, including a beer can, a lighter and a bandanna found near the fire scene.

“They would have exonerated me,” he said.

Bellavance wore an orange jail uniform and was in handcuffs and shackles for most of the day, but Justice Donald Marden had the handcuffs removed while Bellavance was on the stand.

Marden did not rule Wednesday, but gave the attorneys deadlines for filing written closing arguments.

“Mr. Bellavance, the court can’t promise you a rather speedy resolution of this matter,” Marden said.

District Attorney Maeghan Maloney closely questioned Bellavance and Campbell, and a second defense attorney, Pamela Ames, who was appointed partway through the trial in December 2011.

Bellavance is serving his sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren. His earliest release date is Feb. 5, 2034, according to the Maine Department of Corrections website.

“I’ve served too much time already,” Bellavance said Wednesday.

Bellavance has been seeking relief from both the conviction and the sentence that was imposed.

In April 2013, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court unanimously rejected a bid to overturn his conviction, and Maloney said the court considered some of the same issues that Bellavance is raising in the current proceeding.

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

[email protected];

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: