May 21, 2018
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Who told truth in topless coffee shop arson trial? Time for jury to decide

By Judy Harrison, BDN Staff

AUGUSTA, Maine — Who will the jury believe? Thomas Mulkern, the recovering drug addict who, in a crisis of conscience, changed the story he’d told for more than two years and testified under immunity that he saw Raymond J. Bellavance Jr. torch the Grand View Topless Coffee Shop on June 3, 2009?

Or, the defendant, who swore under oath he did not slosh gasoline on the back of the former motel on Route 3 in Vassalboro and light the blaze that destroyed the building and endangered the lives of the owner, Donald Crabtree, his daughters, their boyfriends and his grandchildren?

Jurors are scheduled to begin deliberating Friday following closing arguments and instructions from Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy. The trial has lasted 10 days over three weeks. More than two dozen witnesses have testified and nearly every one of them except the investigators, Crabtree and a few others, had criminal records and court-appointed attorneys to protect their right against self-incrimination.

Most of them had faulty memories.

Tara Bellavance, the defendant’s wife, couldn’t identify him from the witness box, even after he waved at her, because she didn’t have her glasses but said he threatened to burn down the shop. Emma Wood remembered driving Bellavance and Mulkern to the coffee shop but could not nail down a time or date.

Forensic evidence is nonexistent. Bellavance’s DNA was not found on a red, five-gallon gas can found at the scene, an expert from the Maine State Police Crime Laboratory testified early in the trial.

Alan Kelley, deputy district attorney for Kennebec County, has maintained that Bellavance “had a lot of anger, a lot of jealousy” toward Crabtree, who now lives in Greenbush. Kelley said in his opening statement the defendant didn’t like the fact that his ex-girlfriend, Krista MacIntyre, was working at the shop and having sex with Crabtree.

MacIntyre and Bellavance testified they did not have an exclusive sexual relationship and he was not jealous of her relationships with other men. Crabtree told the jury he had sex with MacIntyre three times but denied having a relationship with the waitress he fired and rehired several times.

Defense attorney Andrews Campbell of Bowdoinham said in his opening statement that his client was not the kind of man who would set a fire at night, endangering the lives of seven people, including two infants.

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

If convicted, Bellavance, 50, of Winthrop faces up to 30 years in prison. His sentence most likely would be long due to his extensive criminal record, most of which has not been revealed to the jury. The 19 months he has been at the Kennebec County Jail awaiting trial would be applied to his sentence.

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