RENEE ORDWAY

Topless trial provides real entertainment

Posted Dec. 30, 2011, at 12:47 p.m.
Last modified Dec. 31, 2011, at 3:58 p.m.

For nearly three weeks I’ve been following the news stories on the arson trial of Raymond Bellavance Jr., the fellow charged with taking a can of gasoline and a match to the one and only topless coffee shop in Vassalboro a couple of years back.

It’s getting colder and darker around these parts, and though we are blessed with a lot of talent in our local theaters and concert halls, there are times when the best and worst of human entertainment unfolds within the walls of our local courtrooms. Truth be told, it has been that way since the birth of our nation.

And just like real theater, you often can read the reviews, good or bad, in the daily paper the next day.

This trial, which ended with guilty verdicts early Friday evening, has made for interesting reading — and for a moment or two has made me long for the days I spent hours sitting on hardwood benches watching the action, for all its drama, tragedy and hilarity, unfold live before me.

The Grand View Coffee Shop was up and running strong in 2009 and even had a short online documentary focusing on the lives of the waitresses produced and posted on Vimeo.com.

They told the filmmakers it wasn’t a bad place to work and they could make anywhere from $39 to as much as $200 a day in tips.

But alas, on June 3, 2009, the old motel the shop was located in burned to the ground in a fire that was immediately pegged as arson.

In May 2010, Bellavance, ex-boyfriend of one of the waitresses, was arrested in South Carolina and charged with arson. He has been held in the Kennebec County Jail since then and now faces up to 30 years in prison.

Grand View’s owner, Donald Crabtree, tried to keep the place running from a trailer placed on the property, but was forced to close it last spring.

The cast of characters in the trial included about two dozen witnesses, many of them with criminal records and represented at the trial by their own court-appointed attorneys, whose job it was to protect their clients from self-incrimination.

That alone would tip you off, as a reporter or spectator, that you are bound to see and hear some interesting stuff.

This week, 31-year-old Krista MacIntyre, Bellavance’s ex-girlfriend and a former topless waitress, testified, but she couldn’t remember much of what was going on at the time, according to newspaper accounts of her testimony.

She did recall that she was having sexual relations with Bellavance, Crabtree and coffee shop patron Jason Lunt around the same time the shop burned down.

Prosecutors allege that Bellavance burned the place down because he didn’t like MacIntyre working there and he especially didn’t like that she was having sex with Crabtree.

Crabtree had told jurors earlier that he did indeed have sex with MacIntyre, three times, but had no relationship with her and that he had fired and then rehired her several times from the business.

Right there could be one of the reasons the Grand View didn’t get named as one of the Best Places To Work in Maine in 2009 by the Maine State Council of the Society for Human Resources Management.

Then, for a little added drama at the end of the trial, you had 26-year-old Thomas Mulkern of Augusta, who for two years swore to police that he was in Portland at the time the Grand View was set ablaze.

He was all lined up to be a defense witness, and then on Tuesday, smack in the middle of the trial and one day before he graduated from a drug rehab program and was to be released from the Kennebec County Jail, Mulkern switched teams.

Under immunity from prosecution for any role he may have had in the fire, Mulkern testified for the state that he was an eyewitness when Bellavance “sloshed” gasoline all over and around the little controversial shop and set it on fire.

My goodness — there was sex and sleaziness and jealousy and rage and jaw-dropping drama right up until the end — and it all revolves around a little topless coffee shop in the small mid-Maine town of Vassalboro.

As the jurors deliberated Friday afternoon, they still may have had the dramatic words of Bellavance’s defense attorney, Andrews Campbell, in their heads. But in the end, the words didn’t sway them.

“Mr. Bellavance is a fighter and a lover, but not an arsonist,” Cambell told the jury.

I’m telling you, it’s a good little story and if I was one of those now unemployed topless waitresses with the real inside skinny, I might just decide to write a book.

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