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

The jury deliberated 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.

Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop, fled Maine when he was first charged in the arson in April 2010. He was extradited back to the state and was in jail for 20 months awaiting trial.

Following 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 arson charges carry maximum penalties of 30 years each.

Bellavance showed no reaction when the guilty verdicts were read aloud. By contrast, 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 following 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.

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 community and beyond, leading the town of Vassalboro to later pass a municipal ordinance regulating sexually oriented businesses.

The building operated out of a former motel and seven people — including Crabtree, his daughters, their boyfriends and two young children — were sleeping there the night of the fire, which was reported just before 1 a.m. on June 3, 2009, by a passing ambulance crew. The residents 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.

Anger and jealousy

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

A deputy testified that Bellavance told him he believed MacIntyre was engaging in prostitution and in 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 an Augusta parking lot talking to a man who was a frequent customer of the coffee shop.

“On the night of June 2, the situation is: Raymond Bellavance has been put off by Krista MacIntyre,” Kelley said. “He has to admit he was losing control.”

In closing arguments Friday, Kelley said Bellavance was fueled by a combination of anger and jealousy, adding, “Raymond Bellavance is a volatile man, quick to anger.”

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 living in the building. Then they fled through the 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 as well as 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.

Wood, who also received immunity from prosecution, testified that she also had been on drugs and could recall little of the events of that time period, but remembers taking the men out to the woods with gas cans.

Maintaining his innocence

Defense attorney Campbell called the prosecution granting immunity to Mulkern and Wood “the deal of the century.”

Bellavance, who testified in his own defense, said he frequently rode ATVs in the area.

He denied being jealous or possessive of MacIntyre, and said the two had been in a relationship for a short while several years ago and remained “friends with benefits,” occasionally having sex with one another.

MacIntyre watched some of the closing arguments from a bench in the back of the large courtroom. At one point there were about a dozen spectators, including investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Kenneth MacMaster was the primary investigator in the case, and outlined the timeline of the case for the jury. He also testified about his interviews with dozens of people.

Campbell argued that the state offered barely enough evidence to charge arson and certainly not enough to convict Bellavance. Campbell maintained the state focused on Bellavance as a suspect from the very beginning of the investigation and refused to look elsewhere.

Kelley said Bellavance’s arrival at 5 a.m. June 3, 2009, at the home of his aunt, Laurette Kalloch, puts him in the vicinity of the fire even though his DNA was not found on a gas can left at the fire scene.

Kalloch, who lives on Dam Pond Road not far from the coffee shop, testified Bellavance asked to for a dry shirt and to use her phone that morning. She said he was accompanied by another man.

“The Kallochs, quite frankly, were devastating witnesses,” Kelley said.

Bellavance testified that he was out with friends that morning intending to plant marijuana nearby when their van had a flat tire. He said he tried to fix it, but realized they needed a phone to call for assistance to deal with a stuck lug nut.

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

Campbell described Bellavance as an in-your-face fighter. “This ain’t a man who goes out by stealth at night to burn down the Grand View,” Campbell said.

Campbell told the jurors to disregard testimony of numerous jail inmates who said Bellavance confessed and provided details about the event.

“Much of the case relies on jailhouse rats,” Campbell said. “Bellavance never admitted or confessed to anyone about anything.”

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

Bellavance’s estranged wife, Tara Michaud Bellavance, of West Gardiner, testified that he was on her property May 31, 2009, when he threatened to burn down the coffee shop to stop MacIntyre from working there.

Several people who were also there corroborated her story, while one witness contradicted her.

And Teena Savage, a cousin of MacIntyre, testified that Bellavance confessed in the summer of 2009 that he burned down the coffee shop. She said he threatened to burn down her house and shoot her horse if she told anyone.

The jury returned to the courtroom once during deliberations and asked to have Savage’s testimony read back to them.

At another point, the jury indicated they had a verdict, but then said they needed more time. The five men and seven women returned the guilty verdicts about 40 minutes later.

Betty Adams — 621-5631

[email protected]

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