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Judge considers new trial in topless coffee shop arson

Joel Page | BDN
Joel Page | BDN
Raymond J. Bellavance Jr. speaks with his attorney Andrews Campbell after being found guilty Friday, Dec. 30, 2011 at Kennebec Superior Court in Augusta, Maine on two counts of arson for setting fire to the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in June 2009.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — A Superior Court judge on Wednesday said she would decide by the end of the month if the man convicted of torching the topless coffee shop on Route 3 in Vassalboro should have a new trial.

Raymond J. Bellavance Jr., 50, of Winthrop was convicted of arson on Dec. 30 after a 10-day jury trial in connection with the fire that destroyed the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop in June 2009.

Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy told attorneys she would issue a decision before the end of the month, Alan Kelley, deputy district attorney for Kennebec County, said in a telephone interview after the hearing.

After Murphy rules on the motion, she is expected to either set a date for sentencing or a new trial.

In his motion for a new trial, Bellavance’s attorney, Andrews Campbell of Bowdoinham, listed several reasons his client deserved a new trial, including the arrest of a key witness four days after the verdict.

Thomas J. Mulkern, 26, of Gardiner was arrested Jan. 3 and charged with the theft of money from a home and refusing to submit to arrest. He is being held without bail at the Kennebec County Jail.

Mulkern, who has a history of drug abuse, according to previously published reports, originally was scheduled to testify for Bellavance. He called Kelley on Dec. 20 to change his story. Instead, Mulkern told the jury that he saw Bellavance slosh gasoline on the coffee shop and set it ablaze.

Bellavance took the stand in his own defense and denied starting the fire.

In the motion for a new trial, Campbell reiterated objections made at trial and overruled. They included immunity offered to certain witnesses but not others, testimony by at least one witness that was excluded, information the prosecutor had but did not share with the defense in a timely manner, and the lack of time to prepare for Mulkern’s testimony.

Kelley said that all of the issues other than Mulkern’s arrest were dealt with properly by the judge during the trial.

“Anything that happened after the trial is not relevant,” he said of Mulkern’s arrest.

Bellavance faces up to 30 years in prison on the arson charge.

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