AUGUSTA — Testifying in his own defense Thursday, Raymond Bellavance Jr. said he considered topless coffee shop waitress Krista MacIntyre a “friend with benefits” and was not jealous of her relationships with other men.
Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop, is on trial in Kennebec County Superior Court on two charges of arson involving the blaze that burned down the Grand View Coffee Shop and forced seven people to flee the building. Prosecutors contend Bellavance set fire to the topless coffee shop because he was jealous of of MacIntyre’s relationships with other men, including coffee shop owner Donald Crabtree.
Bellavance said he and MacIntyre were “friends with benefits,” hanging out together and having occasional, casual sex.
“I have no motive to do this fire,” Bellavance said. “Somebody’s going to burn down someone else’s building over jealousy? That’s a little outrageous, I think.”
Bellavance spent almost four hours on the witness stand, his tone confident and blunt, a term he used to characterize himself.
Under close questioning from the prosecution, he said that on the morning of the fire, June 3, 2009, he and three other people were on their way to plant marijuana along a road off Route 3 when their van had a flat tire.
He said he and one man hiked to his aunt’s home on Dam Pond Road — not far from the coffee shop on Route 3 and Mudget Hill Road — to get help or a four-way tire iron to loosen a stuck lug nut. His shirt was wet from lying on the ground trying to set the jack, he said.
His aunt had earlier testified he showed up at her house in the wee hours of the morning, wet.
Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley, however, disputed that alibi, insisting that Bellavance and another man were fleeing the scene of the early morning blaze and got wet because they traipsed through a swamp during their escape.
Bellevance said he fled Maine and traveled to New Hampshire after learning in early April 2010 that he was to be arrested and charged with the arson.
“I was scared to death,” Bellavance said, in response to questioning. “I was evading the police. That’s correct, sir.”
He was arrested in South Carolina several weeks later and brought back to Maine.
The judge ruled that the jury could be told Bellavance had a 2005 drug conviction, but not a series of other convictions. Bellavance has been convicted of burglary, theft, assault and aggravated assault, criminal mischief and terrorizing, among other crimes between 1979 and 2005, and has spent as much as two years at a time in prison.
Defense attorney Andrews Campbell led Bellavance through a series of questions to establish that he has children and grandchildren and worked as a dry-waller from age 14, when he dropped out of school in eighth grade.
Bellavance said he came from a family of boxers and has always confronted people face to face.
“Did you ever, ever set fire to the Grand View coffee shop?” Campbell asked.
“No, I did not,” Bellavance responded.
Bellavance said investigators tried to trick him into confessing to the crime by saying that he was working with Marlon Cloutier, a man who was previously convicted of multiple counts of arson.
Last week, Thomas Mulkern, 26, of Augusta, testified that he was with Bellavance when Bellavance poured gasoline on the back of the building and lit it afire with his lighter.
Mulkern, who recently graduated from a drug rehabilitation program in jail, said his girlfriend at the time, Emma Wood, drove the men to the scene and dropped them off.
Both Mulkern and Wood received immunity from prosecution in exchange for their testimony.
And Bellavance’s wife, Tara Michaud Bellavance, of West Gardiner, testified earlier in the trial that Raymond Bellavance had threatened to burn down the shop because he did not want MacIntyre working there.
DNA evidence found on a five-gallon plastic gasoline can at the fire scene does not match Bellavance, according to testimony last week by state crime lab personnel.
Kenneth MacMaster, an investigator with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, was recalled to testify Thursday afternoon. MacMaster said he checked Bellavance’s alibi for late June 2, 2009, and the early morning hours of June 3, 2009. Several people Bellavance said he was with the night of the fire could not recall being with the arson suspect, MacMaster said.
Teena Savage, of Readfield, a former girlfriend of Bellavance’s, also returned to the witness stand. Savage said she did not begin dating Bellavance until after the fire occurred and would not have been driving him down the road to plant marijuana plants just after 5 a.m. on June 3, 2009.
The fire was reported at about 12:50 a.m. that day.
The attorneys are scheduled to begin closing arguments at 9 a.m. today After that, the judge will give instructions on the law and turn the case over to the jury.
Now, there are eight men and six women; two are alternate jurors who will be dismissed before deliberations.
Betty Adams — 621-5631