Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Raymond Bellavance Jr. consistently has denied he burned down the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro 3 1/2 years ago, a denial jurors rejected when they convicted him of arson.
Raymond Bellevance sits listening during a hearing in Kennebec County Superior Court on May 5, 2011, in Augusta. Bellevance is appealing his arson conviction for starting the June 3, 2009 fire that destroyed the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in Vassalboro.
Staff photo by Joe Phelan
Grand View Topless Coffee Shop employee Krista MacIntyre, and former employee Alan Brown, arrive at the fire scene that destroyed the topless restaurant in Vassalboro on June 6, 2009. The state argued at trial that Raymond Bellavance Jr., who was dating MacIntyre, burned the building in revenge against coffee shop owner Donald Crabtree, whom MacIntyre was also dating.
Staff photo by David Leaming
Now Bellavance is appealing his Dec. 30, 2011, conviction to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, which is scheduled to hear oral arguments in the case next month in Portland.
Bellavance, 51, formerly of Winthrop, is serving his 30-year sentence at the Maine State Prison in Warren and is represented in the appeal by Andrews Campbell, who also defended him at trial.
Just before his sentencing, Bellavance himself weighed in early on his appeal in a letter mailed to the Kennebec Journal and distributed at his sentencing hearing. In it, he claims to be a victim of a corrupt justice system and, at the least, "sloppy police work."
"I make this claim because I, Raymond Bellavance, am not guilty of the crimes charged against me," Bellavance wrote. "My name has been driven into the mind of the public as a monster convicted of arson."
Bellavance's hearing before the high court is scheduled for 1:15 p.m. Feb. 12. The legal arguments filed with the appeal outline the crime as well as the events that occurred during hearings and during the 10 days of the December 2011 trial itself.
The coffee shop on Route 3 in Vassalboro featured topless waitresses and waiters serving coffee and doughnuts and attracted national news media attention. The business, owned by Donald Crabtree, opened in February 2009 and sparked controversy in the community and beyond, later prompting Vassalboro and other local communities to pass municipal ordinances regulating sexually oriented businesses.
The coffee shop operated in a former motel. Seven people -- Crabtree, his two daughters, their infant children and their boyfriends -- were sleeping there the night of the fire, which was reported just before 1 a.m. June 3, 2009, by a passing ambulance crew. All the residents escaped the gasoline-fueled blaze without injury.
After the fire, Crabtree, who had no insurance on the building, ran the business in a commercial trailer on the same property and began to rebuild. Then he sold the property in November 2011 and moved to Greenbush.
Alan Kelley prosecuted the case for the Kennebec County District Attorney's Office; however, new Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney, who came to the office after the written briefs were filed, said Tuesday she will argue the state's position in front of the law court.
Kelley argued at trial that Bellavance burned the coffee shop because of his jealousy about Krista MacIntyre, a waitress there who was dating Bellavance as well as Crabtree and a third man. Bellavance's estranged wife testified that Bellavance threatened to set fire to the coffee shop to stop MacIntyre from working there.
Bellavance testified in his own defense, saying he and MacIntyre were "friends with benefits," hanging out together and having occasional, casual sex. He denied the jealousy motive.
"I have no motive to do this fire," Bellavance said on the witness stand. "Somebody's going to burn down someone else's building over jealousy? That's a little outrageous, I think."
He testified he was seen in the area of the coffee shop early on the day it burned because he and some friends were going to plant marijuana along a road that ran off Route 3, but were unable to do so because their van had a flat tire.
Bellavance spent almost four hours on the witness stand, his tone confident and blunt, a term he used to characterize himself.
Campbell's written filings allege seven areas in which he believes errors occurred in the case:
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click image to enlarge
Former Grand View Topless Coffee Shop owner Donald Crabtree, seen at the scene of the fire that destroyed the building on June 3, 2009. Crabtree, his two daughters, their infant children and their boyfriends were living in the former motel at the time and were at home when the fire was set.
Staff photo by David Leaming