UNION — A judge in a rural Missouri county ruled Thursday that accused kidnapper Michael Devlin will have jurors selected from another county in his trial for the alleged kidnapping of 13-year-old Ben Ownby.
Franklin County Circuit Court Judge Stanley Williams ruled that the Devlin jurors will be selected from a county elsewhere in the state, but they will be brought to Franklin County for the legal proceedings.
“We set the template for a level playing field,” Devlin’s attorney Michael Kielty said after the hearing.
Franklin County Prosecuting Attorney Robert Parks said the ruling will make little difference in how the trial proceeds. “It doesn’t matter to me one way or the other,” Parks said.
Williams said Kielty and co-counsel Ethan Corlija have until Aug. 31 to file any motions on Devlin’s behalf. The next hearing in the trial is set for Oct. 18.
Parks said the trial should be speedy once motions are heard and a jury is selected.
“Out here we try ‘em fast, so I can’t see this trial lasting more than three or four days,” Parks said.
Devlin is accused of kidnapping Ben at gunpoint Jan. 8. Authorities found the boy four days later in Devlin’s apartment in a St. Louis suburb, along with 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck, who had been missing for four years.
Devlin faces charges of kidnapping, sexual abuse and attempted murder in Washington County, where prosecutors allege he abducted Shawn in 2002. He faces more than 70 counts in St. Louis County for allegedly abusing and confining both boys.
He also faces federal charges alleging he produced pornography and transported Shawn across state lines.
The former pizzeria manager, 41, is currently being held in Franklin County in lieu of a $1 million bond.
Kielty said Thursday’s ruling is only a small part of Devlin’s complex legal battle. “You’ve got to win one victory at a time,” Kielty said. “We (will) just put our nose to the grindstone, get to work and prepare for trial.”
Kielty said he and Corlija have received more than 4,000 pages of evidence the state has amassed against Devlin. He said Devlin is reviewing the evidence and making copious notes to rebut much of it. Corlija said Devlin is eager to participate in his own defense.
Williams ruled in favor of the venue change largely on technical grounds.
Parks had argued the motion for a venue change should not be heard, saying Kielty and Corlija had not properly filed their request March 14. Williams disagreed. Because Parks did not file a challenge to the motion within 10 days, Williams ruled that Devlin was automatically entitled to the venue change.
Devlin’s next court hearing in Washington County will be July 16. Corlija and Kielty also have filed a motion there for a change of venue.
Washington County Prosecuting Attorney John Rupp said Devlin is entitled to the venue change under Missouri law because the county’s population is so small.
Kielty said he wants the juries for Devlin’s trials to be selected in large metropolitan areas like St. Louis County or Jackson County, which includes Kansas City.