Published January 13, 2015
The long trail of pain inflicted by Michael Devlin drew toward a close with him describing in court how he assaulted an abducted boy, seemingly oblivious to the anguished parents seated in the courtroom for his confession.
Devlin has received dozens of life sentences after pleading guilty to child kidnapping and sodomy charges in state proceedings related to his abduction and sexual abuse of young Shawn Hornbeck and Ben Ownby.
After recounting some of his acts during testimony given just feet away Shawn's weeping parents Tuesday, Devlin faces additional charges in federal court Wednesday morning. He is expected to plead guilty to charges of videotaping himself torturing Shawn after kidnapping him, and transporting the boy across state lines.
The hearing will be the last in a series of proceedings this week that revealed how he kidnapped Shawn and turned him into a captive who was forced to follow Devlin's horrific orders to stay alive.
Devlin also admitted abducting and abusing Ben before both victims were discovered alive in Devlin's apartment.
The hearings were part of an elaborate deal his attorneys struck in four jurisdictions where Devlin was charged with more than 80 counts, including sexual assault, kidnapping and attempted murder.
Devlin's life sentences assure he will spend the rest of his life in prison. He is expected to serve his time in the state prison system.
Devlin said through his attorneys that he accepted his punishment because he knew what he did was wrong — a statement quickly dismissed by prosecutors and the boys' families.
"He pleaded guilty because he does not want the world to know the full extent of what he did," said St. Louis County prosecutor Robert McCulloch.
Prosecutors laid out new evidence showing that Devlin tortured Shawn during his first days in captivity and made the boy promise not to flee in order to stay alive. It was a "devil's bargain" that kept Shawn under Devlin's sway for more than four years, even when the boy had phone and Internet access, said Shawn's stepfather, Craig Akers.
"We know now the details that made him not run away," Akers said after the hearings.
Devlin pleaded guilty to six counts at a Washington County hearing Tuesday, accepting the maximum sentence of three life terms in prison plus 60 years for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and attempting to murder Shawn in 2002.
During that hearing, Devlin admitted in graphic detail how he abducted Shawn in 2002 and described the point at which Shawn apparently turned from a kidnap victim into a powerless captive.
After Shawn was abducted at gunpoint while riding his bike in rural Washington County, Devlin took the then-11-year-old boy to his apartment in suburban St. Louis where he repeatedly sexually assaulted him. Days later, Devlin took Shawn back to rural Washington County in his pickup truck, apparently intent on killing the boy.
He said he pulled Shawn from his truck and began to strangle him, but Shawn resisted.
"I attempted to kill [Shawn] and he talked me out of it," Devlin said.
Devlin stopped the choking, but then sexually assaulted the boy again. Prosecutors say Shawn told Devlin he would do whatever was asked of him to stay alive.
Prosecutors also said that Devlin began abusing Ben Ownby immediately after abducting him Jan. 8. Devlin abused the boy each day until authorities found Ben and Shawn in Devlin's apartment and rescued them Jan. 12, as Devlin, a pizzeria manager, worked the day shift at his shop.
After the Washington County hearing, Devlin pleaded guilty to 71 counts in St. Louis County Circuit Court — two counts of kidnapping and 69 counts of forcible sodomy of Ben and Shawn. He was then sentenced to 18 consecutive life sentences in St. Louis County. He pleaded guilty to other charges at a hearing in Franklin County on Monday.
Rupp said he was satisfied with the sentences. "You heard it from his own mouth. You've heard what kind of a monster he is."
While it is The Associated Press' policy not to identify suspected victims of sexual abuse in most cases, the story of Shawn and Ben has been widely publicized and their names are well known.