UNION — A former pizza parlor manager was sentenced to life in prison Monday for the kidnapping of one of two boys he is accused of holding captive in his apartment.
Michael Devlin, 41, pleaded guilty o one charge of child kidnapping and one charge of armed criminal action in the January abduction of 13-year-old William “Ben” Ownby.
It was the first in a series of hearings this week in four jurisdictions where Devlin faces more than 80 counts in the kidnappings and sexual abuses of Ben and 15-year-old Shawn Hornbeck. He is expected to plead guilty to all of the charges against him, a prosecutor and a relative of the boys has said.
Devlin declined to speak about his plea in court.
After the hearing, Devlin’s attorneys said their client decided to plead guilty to spare both his family and the families of his two victims from a trial.
“He just does not want to see anyone suffer any more than they have in this whole ordeal,” said defense attorney Michael Kielty.
At the hearing, prosecutor Bob Parks painted a chilling picture of a predator who spent months seeking out a victim. In the three months before Ben’s abduction, Devlin visited rural areas, driving near schools and following school bus routes “in hopes of finding a boy,” Parks said.
At some point, Devlin began focusing on Ben, Parks said. On Jan. 8, Devlin, claiming he was ill, left work earlier at the Imo’s Pizza where he was a manager and headed to Franklin County, Parks said. In his pickup truck, Devlin had duct tape, a brown hooded sweat shirt and a 9 mm gun, the prosecutor said.
“He followed one boy as he walked down the road by himself. This turned out to be Ben Ownby,” Parks said.
Devlin drove up to Ben and asked him if he knew where some people lived, Parks said. When Ben appeared nervous, Parks said, Devlin grabbed him and shoved him into the truck.
Ben asked Devlin why he was taking him, Parks said.
“The defendant said, ‘Just because,’” the prosecutor said.
Then, Parks said, Devlin drove Ben to Devlin’s Kirkwood apartment.
Four days later, a tip led to Devlin’s cramped apartment, where both Ben and Shawn — who had been kidnapped more than four years before in 2002 — were found.
“This is a predator. This guy is evil. This is evil incarnate. You will never see anybody worse than this because this is a guy that preys on our kids,” Parks said after the hearing.
Ben’s parents, Don and Doris Ownby, told reporters they were relieved by the plea.
“We’ve been waiting for this moment. Now that it’s here, it’s such a relief,” Doris Ownby said.
Besides Franklin County Circuit Court, Devlin faces charges Tuesday in both Washington County and St. Louis County Circuit Court. He also is to appear in federal court in St. Louis by Wednesday.
Bill Romer, who owns the Kirkwood apartment building where Devlin lived, said Devlin’s old apartment is still vacant and he plans to sell the building.
“I would think that he’s doing the right thing by pleading guilty. You could draw the whole ordeal out, spend everyone’s time, money and personal grief, and it wouldn’t be worth that,” Romer said in a telephone interview.
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.