KIRKWOOD, Mo. – Michael Devlin was a cunning manipulator of the children upon whom he preyed. But in the months before he kidnapped a 13-year-old in January, Devlin faced a rebellion from the boy he had held captive for more than four years.
When Devlin told Shawn Hornbeck he was going to kidnap a new boy, Shawn fought the man who had tortured, isolated and manipulated him since 2002.
Shawn, then 15, told his 41-year-old captor that another child should not have to endure the horrors he had been put through, according to a prosecutor and Shawn's attorney.
To tighten his psychological hold over Shawn, Devlin took him along on the kidnapping of the second child. He told Shawn that running to the police would get both of them arrested.
Devlin essentially said, "OK, buddy, now that you're in the truck with me, you're in as much trouble as I am," Scott Sherman, an attorney for Shawn and his family, said Wednesday.
In the most detailed public explanation yet of how Devlin kept Shawn and the other boy under his control, Sherman and Washington County Prosecutor John Rupp told The Associated Press that Shawn did all he could to stop his captor from kidnapping Ben Ownby. But Shawn was powerless to fight the man who had systematically abused and manipulated him for years.
Devlin told Shawn in fall 2006 that he planned to kidnap another boy, just as he had taken 11-year-old Shawn in 2002 as the boy was riding his bike near his home in the town of Richwoods, Rupp said.
"Shawn just went ballistic on Devlin, telling him: 'There's no way another boy should have to go through what I went through,"' Rupp told the AP. Devlin had tortured Shawn for years, keeping him isolated in an apartment while forcing him to take the name Shawn Devlin.
The details from Rupp emerged Wednesday after Devlin's guilty pleas in a fourth and final jurisdiction. In federal court, Devlin admitted to making pornographic photographs and videotapes of Shawn and taking him across state lines to engage in sex acts.
On Monday and Tuesday, Devlin was immediately sentenced to life terms for kidnapping and abusing the boys in Washington, St. Louis and Franklin counties. Devlin received 20 consecutive life sentences, making him ineligible for parole until he is more than 100 years old.
The Associated Press generally does not identify suspected victims of sexual abuse, but the story of Shawn and Ben has been widely publicized, and their names are well known.
Evidence presented at this week's hearings indicated Devlin was a calculating predator with a seemingly boundless appetite for inflicting pain on young boys.
Rupp said he didn't know of any time that Shawn ever tried to flee from Devlin, because the boy was terrified Devlin would find him and kill him.
But Shawn's resistance to Devlin had grown so intense by late 2006 that the man realized his normal threats of murder or sexual violence wouldn't control the boy, Sherman said.
"When none of those threats can work, and Shawn was going nuts, then the only thing that was left was that Shawn had to be in as much trouble" as Devlin was, Sherman said.
Devlin's lawyers said the accounts of their client are accurate.
"I think that Shawn Hornbeck is really a hero," said Ethan Corlija. "He really threw himself on the sword many times so Ben would not have to go through any undue torture."
It appears that Ben was in more danger than previously known.
Devlin told Shawn that he planned to kill the boy after abusing him and had no intention of taking the risk to create another "son," as he had with Shawn, Rupp said.
"He told Shawn that was his plan — he was going to keep Ben for a while and then kill him," Rupp said.
Corlija said he could not comment specifically on that assertion.
After Devlin's last court appearance, Shawn's father, Craig Akers, described the end of four hearings as a big relief, a "last sigh" for the family.
"We're just so glad this is the outcome, that the monster is caged and will remain caged."
He and his wife, Pam, said Thursday that they had both believed Hornbeck deserved the death penalty, but then changed their minds.
The more I think about it, I almost want him to suffer," Pam Akers told ABC's "Good Morning America." Her husband said the death penalty is "just too easy."
Shawn has been watching news coverage of Devlin's guilty pleas and knows he is finally free of the man's grip, Craig Akers said.
"He's been following the proceedings for the first time since he's come home," he said.
When asked what words Shawn used when he saw Devlin sentenced on television, Akers and his wife exchanged a quick smile.
"There's some of them I don't think I can actually use," Akers said.