AUGUSTA — It took all day Friday to select 16 people — nine women and seven men — from Kennebec County who will hear evidence at a trial scheduled to begin next week in which a Winthrop man is accused burning down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro.

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

Bellavance has pleaded not guilty. He has been in jail for 18 months awaiting trial on the arson charges — 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 — an old motel — when the fire started. Everyone escaped unharmed after a passing ambulance crew noticed the fire and alerted them.

The trial is scheduled to get under way Wednesday and Thursday, and to resume the week of Dec. 19.

The case has been high-profile, in large part because the February 2009 opening of the controversial coffee shop in a rural community attracted national media attention.

Only 10 members of the 120-plus juror pool 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 attorneys and the defendant, as well as court personnel.

Murphy also read off a list of 94 potential witnesses — which included firefighters, fire investigators, police, those who fled the fire, wait staff and a series of jail personnel and inmates — to see whether the jurors could treat their testimony impartially.

At one point, 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.

At about 4 p.m., when Murphy seated the nine women and seven men selected to serve as jurors in the trial, Murphy warned them not to talk about the case, not to investigate or research anything, and to ignore news coverage. The selections include 12 jurors plus four alternates.

“Mr. Bellavance is presumed innocent,” Murphy said.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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