Jeff Roberson  /  AP
Michael Devlin is escorted out of the Franklin County Courthouse under heavy security Monday in Union, Mo.
updated 10/8/2007 1:10:22 PM ET 2007-10-08T17:10:22

A man was sentenced to life in prison Monday for kidnapping one of two boys authorities said he held captive and sexually abused in his apartment.

Michael Devlin, 41, pleaded guilty to one charge of child kidnapping and one charge of armed-criminal action in the January abduction of 13-year-old William “Ben” Ownby as the boy walked home alone from his school bus stop.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment,” Ben’s mother, Doris Ownby, told reporters after the sentencing hearing. “Now that it’s here, it’s such a relief.”

It was the first in a series of hearings this week in four jurisdictions where Devlin faces more than 80 counts in the abductions of Ben and Shawn Hornbeck, a 16-year-old who was snatched in 2002 while riding his bike and held for more than four years.

Devlin plans to plead guilty to all charges against him to spare the emotional toll of trials on the boys’ families and his own relatives, attorneys said.

“He just does not want to see anyone suffer any more than they have in this whole ordeal,” said Devlin’s attorney, Michael Kielty.

In court, Devlin answered a series of questions from Circuit Court Judge Stanley Williams but declined to explain the plea when the judge asked if he wanted to comment.

Abduction detailed
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.

One day, Parks said, Devlin “followed one boy as he walked down the road by himself. This turned out to be Ben Ownby.”

In his pickup truck, Devlin had duct tape, a brown hooded sweat shirt and a 9 mm gun, Parks said. He 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,”’ Parks said. Devlin then drove Ben to his apartment in Kirkwood, Mo.

Ben was 13 when he disappeared minutes after stepping off his school bus in rural Franklin County. Four days later — on Jan. 12 — a tip led to Devlin’s cramped apartment, where both boys were found.

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.

'At peace'
Kielty said Devlin was “at peace” about pleading to the charges.

“He instructed me to give this message,” the lawyer, Michael Kielty, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I think he’s at peace. He’s looking forward to a disposition.”

Kielty said he presented the evidence against Devlin during one of their many recent jailhouse visits and let him decide. "Here's why Mike is pleading guilty — at one trial or four trials, he didn't think he could get any better of a deal," Kielty said.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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