AUGUSTA — A witness who graduated this week from a drug rehabilitation program in jail testified Friday that he watched Raymond Bellavance Jr. pour gasoline behind the Grand View Topless Coffee shop in Vassalboro and then set it ablaze with his lighter.

Thomas Mulkern, 26, said Friday that he wanted to clear his conscience, so three days ago he changed the story he had told investigators previously.

Mulkern was given immunity from prosecution for any charges related to that fire — including illegal drug use — in exchange for his unexpected testimony on the sixth day of Bellavance’s jury trial in Kennebec County Superior Court.

Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop, is charged with two counts of arson in connection with the early morning fire on June 3, 2009. He has maintained he is innocent.

Mulkern, convicted previously of burglary, theft, escape and drug possession, testified Friday over the strenuous objections of two attorneys representing Bellavance.

The new information from Mulkern reached the court on Wednesday, and the judge gave the jury Thursday off so prosecutors and defense attorneys could evaluate its effect on the case.

Mulkern testified that the plot to torch the topless coffee was hatched in the back bedroom and bathroom of Bellavance’s daughter’s home.

He said that Bellavance had run into his sometime-girlfriend Krista MacIntyre talking to another man earlier that evening in a parking lot in Augusta. Other witnesses testified previously that Bellavance was unhappy that MacIntyre was working at the topless coffee shop again and that he had threatened to burn it down.

Mulkern said his then-girlfriend, Emma Wood, drove him and Bellavance early on June 3, 2009, to the coffee shop on Route 3 and dropped the pair and two gasoline containers on the side of a dirt road that borders the property. Mulkern said he watched as Bellavance crossed the dirt road with the plastic gas cans, splashed one on the side of the building and then dumped out the other and lit the can.

“I saw a ‘swoosh!’ and fire started going to the building,” Mulkern said.

Then, he said, Bellavance got upset because he had left his cell phone in Wood’s vehicle and could not contact her to get a ride back.

“He’s not a very pleasant person when he gets upset; it’s everybody’s fault but his own,” Mulkern said.

Mulkern said he tried to calm Bellavance, telling him it didn’t matter.

“He said, ‘You don’t understand how this is; we’re going to get life in prison for this. There’s people inside,’ ” Mulkern testified.

At that point, Mulkern said he became overwhelmed, saying if he had known people were in the former motel building, he wouldn’t have gone with Bellavance.

A crew from a passing ambulance reported the blaze and alerted the seven people inside, who escaped without injury.

Mulkern said Bellavance forced him to take a drink of a Twisted Tea, and Mulkern thought he was being poisoned so there would be no witnesses.

The two men started to fight, and Bellavance then pulled a knife on him, Mulkern said.

Once the fight ended, the two men fled on foot through a heavily wooded area and ended up waist-deep in swamp water. Mulkern said they could hear barking and believed police were tracking them with dogs.

Later, he said, Bellavance led them to Bellavance’s aunt’s house, where they called for a ride.

Earlier in the trial, Laurette Kalloch testified that Bellavance, her nephew, came to her door about 5 a.m. June 3, 2009, asking to use the phone and for a dry shirt. She refused to allow him inside and tossed the phone and a shirt to him through a window. She said a younger man, whom she did not recognize, accompanied him.

During cross-examination, Andrews Campbell, one of Bellavance’s attorneys, accused Mulkern of gleaning those details from newspaper stories about the trial and of changing his story at the last minute to get out of jail and to avoid prosecution.

“I’m telling the truth,” Mulkern said.

Mulkern said he was unsure about the times of some of the incidents and that he had been shooting a lot of cocaine intravenously that night prior to going to the coffee shop.

Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley told the judge that Mulkern was the last witness for the prosecution. The defense portion of the case is scheduled to begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday.

Campbell said he planned to call several witnesses, but it was still undecided whether Bellavance would take the stand in his own defense.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]