Missouri Kidnap Suspect Pleads Not Guilty to Abducting Ownby; Other Parents Assume Abuse

The man accused of kidnapping Missouri teen Ben Ownby pleaded not guilty to his abduction during a video arraignment Thursday, but the prosecutor in the case said the 41-year-old suspect already confessed.

Meanwhile, the parents of another teen found by police at Michael Devlin's home with Ownby said they believe their son was sexually abused by Devlin during his four years in captivity.

Devlin did not appear in person at the court hearing Thursday in Franklin County, where he was charged with one count of child kidnapping in 13-year-old Ben's Jan. 8 abduction.

The 41-year-old pizzeria worker and part-time funeral home employee remained in the Franklin County Jail during the arraignment, appearing through a video hookup. He is jailed on $1 million bond and is being held on isolation.

Devlin stood with his hands folded in front of his stomach, wearing orange jail-issued clothing. He mostly responded to the judge's questions with yes or no answers and did not make a statement.

Prosecuting Attorney Robert Parks told reporters after the arraignment that while he is still waiting for investigative reports for his case, "basically, when Mr. Devlin was taken into custody, he did confess."

Ben had just returned home from a day at middle school Jan. 8 when he was abducted soon after getting off his school bus. Another student who got off at the same stop, Mitchell Hults, saw a white Nissan pickup speeding away.

On Wednesday, Washington County prosecutor John Rupp announced charges against Devlin for the abduction of Shawn Hornbeck, allegedly kidnapped in 2002. Both boys were found Friday at Devlin's suburban St. Louis apartment.

Authorities say Devlin used a gun as part of the abduction of Shawn, who was 11 at the time. No details have yet emerged about how Ben was taken.

Shawn said Thursday that he prayed continually for a reunion with his family during his time in captivity.

"I prayed that one day my parents would find me and I'd be united," Shawn Hornbeck told Oprah Winfrey in a pre-taped interview in his home, which aired on Winfrey's talk show Thursday.

Shawn said he was not ready to discuss details of his abduction and the subsequent 51 months he spent living with Devlin.

Winfrey said the boy told her off-camera that he was "terrified" to contact his parents during the last four years. And the boy's parents told Winfrey they have not asked their son what happened on the advice of child advocacy experts, but are convinced their son did not contact them out of fear for his life, theirs or other members of their family.

"There has to have been something held over his head," said Craig Akers, the boy's stepfather. "There's no way in the world that if he was able to do whatever he wanted to do ... there's no doubt in my mind he would have (come home)."

When Winfrey asked Shawn's parents if they believe he was sexually abused, both nodded and said, "Yes."

The boy's mother, Pam Akers, told Winfrey she believes her son will tell her what he went through.

"I believe he will talk to us eventually," she said.

Craig Akers stressed that something happened to dramatically change the boy.

"I have no doubt that mentally he's not the same boy he was," he said.

One of Devlin's attorneys, Michael Kielty, declined to respond to the claim of sexual abuse, saying he hasn't seen evidence in the case. "The only thing I have is an allegation," he said.

Devlin also is under investigation in the 1991 disappearance of another Missouri boy who has not been found, The Associated Press has learned. Devlin is the "most viable lead" in the case of Charles Arlin Henderson, who was 11 when he disappeared in 1991 and has never been found, Lincoln County sheriff's deputies said.

Charles Arlin Henderson, known as Arlin, was, like Ben and Shawn, about 100 pounds and from a rural town about an hour from St. Louis. Both Shawn and Arlin vanished at age 11 while riding their bikes.

"If you were to take a photo of Arlin Henderson and you place it next to Shawn's picture, there is a striking resemblance," Lincoln County sheriff's Lt. Rick Harrell said.

Investigators began re-examining the 1991 case after Devlin's arrest. Detective Chris Bartlett said a witness saw a man snapping photos of Arlin before the Moscow Mills boy vanished.

Arlin's uncle, James McWilliams, said the boy came home from school a few months before he disappeared and told his mother a "tall, thin man" had been taking pictures of him.

Asked whether the man's description fit that of Devlin, who stands about 6-foot-4 and weighs around 300 pounds, Bartlett said: "It matched the description enough that we have to pursue him as the most viable lead."

"We've got other indications that cause us to be concerned with this," he added.

Lincoln County deputies have sent their leads to the Franklin County task force that spearheaded the hunt for Ben.

Franklin County Sheriff Gary Toelke said his office and the FBI were investigating whether Devlin might have been involved in other abductions. FBI spokesman Pete Krusing would not discuss whether the agency was investigating a link between Devlin and the 1991 case.

Parks said Devlin faces 10 to 30 years (which is a life sentence, according to Missouri law) in prison if found guilty of the Ownby kidnapping charge. But "at this time, Mr. Devlin is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law," Parks said.

Ethan Corlija, one of Devlin's defense attorneys, said he met with his client on Wednesday.

"He seemed calm. He understood exactly what proceedings were to take place this morning," Corlija said.

Associate Circuit Judge David Tobben scheduled a preliminary hearing for March 15. But Parks said he likely will present evidence in the case to a county grand jury in February, which would eliminate the need for the preliminary hearing.

Kielty said that with the "blitzkrieg" of press coverage of the kidnappings, "there's no way" his client can get a fair trial in Franklin County.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.