POTOSI, Mo. — Craig Akers just stared at the courtroom floor when he first heard the jingling chains. Then, slowly, he turned and looked for the first time at Michael Devlin.
The sight of the man shuffling into the room in shackles brought a look of loss and anger to Akers’ face.
For a while, Akers and his wife, Pam, were composed. Pam said she didn’t want to give Devlin the satisfaction of knowing how badly he hurt them and their son Shawn Hornbeck, the boy Devlin held captive for four years.
But then Devlin began telling the judge in graphic detail what he had done to their boy, his high-pitched and raspy voice devoid of any emotion.
Devlin didn’t seem to notice when Pam Akers collapsed weeping into her husband’s arms.
During that hearing in Washington County and another later Tuesday in St. Louis County, Devlin pleaded guilty to dozens of felonies and one long and horrific act of torture. He admitted stealing Shawn from his home, sexually abusing him and torturing him while making a home video of the boy’s torment.
Four years of the abuse turned Shawn into a slave who followed Devlin’s orders just to survive. Devlin also admitted beginning the process anew in January with a second boy he kidnapped just days before the victims were discovered alive in Devlin’s apartment.
Devlin was given dozens of life sentences after his pleas, assuring he will spend the rest of his life in prison for kidnapping and sexually abusing Ben Ownby and Shawn.
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, 41, 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.
During the Washington County hearing, Devlin admitted in graphic detail how he abducted Shawn Hornbeck in 2002 and described the point at which Shawn apparently turned from a kidnap victim into a powerless captive.
After the boy, then 11, was abducted at gunpoint while riding his bike in rural Washington County, Devlin took him to his apartment in suburban St. Louis and repeatedly sexually assaulted him. Days later, Devlin took Shawn back to 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. Shawn resisted.
“I attempted to kill (Shawn) and he talked me out of it,” Devlin said Tuesday.
Devlin stopped the choking, but then sexually assaulted the boy again. Prosecutors say it was at that point that Shawn told Devlin he would do whatever was asked of him to stay alive.
It was a “devil’s bargain” that kept Shawn under Devlin’s sway, even as 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.
At the St. Louis County hearing, prosecutors said Devlin kept Shawn tied for weeks to a futon or a couch, with duct tape over his mouth. Devlin left the boy alone when he went to work at the pizzeria during the days and returned at night to sexually assault him.
Prosecutors said Devlin also made a videotape of himself torturing Shawn while the boy screamed for him to stop.
Devlin abducted Ben Ownby in rural Franklin County on Jan. 8. A schoolmate’s tip about a white pickup truck helped lead authorities to Devlin’s apartment, where Ben and Shawn were rescued Jan. 12 as Devlin, a pizzeria manager, worked the day shift at his shop.
Prosecutors said Devlin abused Ben every day before the boy was rescued.
Devlin’s attorneys said the evidence against him made a trial “impossible.” Attorney Michael Kielty specifically referred to the videotape prosecutors described.
A final hearing Wednesday
Devlin is set to have a final hearing Wednesday morning in federal court on charges of making the videotape and transporting Shawn across state lines. Kielty said he wouldn’t comment on what sentence he expects Devlin to receive then.
Devlin pleaded guilty to six counts in Washington County and received the maximum sentence of three life terms in prison plus 60 years for kidnapping, sexually assaulting and attempting to murder Shawn in 2002.
In St. Louis County Circuit Court, he pleaded guilty to two counts of kidnapping and 69 counts of forcible sodomy, and received 18 consecutive life sentences. He received a life sentence in Franklin County on Monday.
Rupp, the Washington County prosecutor, said he was satisfied with the sentences, which mean Devlin would have to live to more than 100 to even have a shot at parole.
“You heard it from his own mouth. You’ve heard what kind of a monster he is,” Rupp said.
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