May 24, 2018
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High court to hear appeal in Vassalboro topless coffee shop arson case

Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Troy R. Bennett | BDN
Raymond Bellavance Jr. was sentenced to 30 years in prison on May 10, 2012 in Kennebec County Superior Court in Augusta for burning down a Vassalboro topless coffee shop in 2009.
By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — The Maine Supreme Judicial Court on Tuesday will hear oral arguments in the appeal of an Augusta man serving a 30-year prison sentence for torching a topless coffee shop in Vassalboro in 2009.

Raymond Bellavance Jr., 51, of Augusta was found guilty by a jury on Dec. 30, 2011, in Kennebec County Superior Court of arson for setting fire to the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop on June 3, 2009. At the time of the fire, seven people, including two infants, were asleep in the building — a former motel — that housed the coffee shop. Everyone escaped without injury.

In May 2012, Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy imposed the maximum sentence allowed under state law. It was “sheer luck” that the arson didn’t lead to a multiple homicide case, she said.

Murphy presided over the 10-day trial, which stretched over three weeks, in December, including over the Christmas holiday. Jurors deliberated for about 4½ hours before returning the verdict and heading home for the New Year’s weekend.

During the trial, then-acting Kennebec County Deputy District Attorney Alan Kelley said Bellavance started the fire because he did not like that his then-girlfriend, Krista MacIntyre, was a waitress at the coffee shop and had a sexual relationship with the owner, Donald Crabtree.

Andrews B. Campbell of Bowdoinham, the attorney who represented Bellavance during his trial, argued in his brief to Maine’s high court that his client deserved a new trial because: it was impossible to seat an impartial jury due to pretrial publicity; the judge placed undue pressure on defense witnesses to invoke their Fifth Amendment rights against self-incrimination; immunity was granted improperly to a defendant; and the defense was not given enough time to adequately prepare when a witness decided to testify against rather than for Bellavance.

Maeghan Maloney, district attorney for Kennebec County, said in her reply brief that Bellavance received a fair trial and that Murphy properly conducted the proceedings. She also argued that immunity was properly granted and that witnesses were not pressured to not testify on Bellavance’s behalf.

Maloney is handling the appeal because Kelley has retired.

The case is one of 11 the justices will consider on appeal Tuesday and Wednesday.

The court also will consider Wednesday the appeal of a Bangor man who is challenging the way good time is allocated by the Maine Department of Corrections.

Christopher Roderick, 32, was sentenced to eight years in prison in August 2007 in Penobscot County Superior Court on 10 counts of burglary. His attorney, Hunter Tzovarras of Bangor, argued that Roderick was entitled to 200 more days of good time than he received.

Susan Pope, assistant district attorney for Penobscot County, said in her reply brief that Roderick had earned the good time to which he was entitled. She also said that how good time is allotted by the DOC is at the discretion of the chief administrative office of each prison in the state.

In addition to its usual array of appeals from closed cases, the court will hear an interlocutory appeal from the suspended prostitution trial in York County Superior Court.

York County District Attorney Justina A. McGettigan has appealed Superior Court Justice Nancy Mills’ dismissal of 46 counts of violation of privacy filed against Mark W. Strong Sr. of Thomaston.

The state alleged that Strong illegally installed or used a video camera to record sexual activity between a prostitute and her customers, according to information posted on the judiciary’s website. Strong’s attorney, Daniel G. Lilley of Portland, argued that Mills correctly determined that the customers had no reasonable expectation of privacy when they visited a commercial establishment for the sole purpose of engaging in illegal activities.

Maine’s supreme court is hearing the appeal on an expedited schedule and is expected to issue a ruling before the end of the month so the trial can get under way.

Oral arguments are scheduled for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Cumberland County Superior Court.

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