Protective custody considered for Michael Devlin's safety in prison

Friday, October 12, 2007
Flanked by his defense attorneys Michael Kielty, left, and Ethan Corlija, right, Michael Devlin appeared in St. Louis County Circuit Court to answer charges against him Tuesday in Clayton, Mo. (ROBERT COHEN ~ Associated Press)

ST. LOUIS -- The state is considering placing Michael Devlin in protective custody because of the nature and high visibility of his crimes, a Department of Corrections spokesman said Thursday, while new details of Devlin's confession emerged that showed he was suicidal.

"We are legally responsible for his protection and that of staff," Corrections spokesman Brian Hauswirth said.

Devlin was taken Wednesday by police escort and under heavy security to the state prison in St. Joseph, where he is being evaluated and processed for eventual placement in one of the state's six high-security state prisons.

The 41-year-old former pizzeria manager received dozens of consecutive life sentences after pleading guilty during a series of court hearings this week to more than 80 charges of kidnapping, sexually abusing and attempting to kill Ben Ownby and Shawn Hornbeck.

Devlin held Shawn for four years, and Ben for four days. FBI documents first obtained by KTVI-TV in St. Louis show that Devlin thought several times about returning Shawn to his parents and then killing himself afterward.

The documents outline an extensive confession Devlin made when he was first arrested by FBI agents Jan. 12, after a tip led to his apartment in suburban St. Louis where authorities found both boys.

"Devlin stated that he has had thoughts of having sex with boys all his life but that he did not act on it until he was 36 years old and when he took Shawn," the document said.

Devlin confessed to kidnapping Shawn in rural Richwoods in 2002. He said he took the boy to his apartment and abused him for about one month. Then Devlin said he took Shawn back to Washington County and tried to murder him.

"Devlin stated that he tried to strangle Shawn but he couldn't do it. Devlin stated they were both crying," the document said. "They came to an agreement. Shawn told Devlin that he would just forget about Devlin trying to kill him and that he would just be satisfied with being alive."

The document says FBI agents questioned Devlin at work. An agent asked to search his white truck, which was similar to a truck seen speeding from the spot where Ben had disappeared. After further questioning, Devlin confessed the boys were in his apartment.

The document said Devlin let FBI agents into his apartment so the boys wouldn't be afraid.

"Devlin told Shawn that none of this was his fault and if the police asked him anything just to tell the truth," the document said.

Devlin's attorney Ethan Corlija said he has an "overwhelming concern" that Devlin might be harmed in prison.

In St. Joseph, Devlin will be evaluated and processed for about a month before being classified almost certainly as a maximum security prisoner at Potosi, Bonne Terre, Charleston, Licking, Jefferson City or Cameron, Hauswirth said.

Authorities got Devlin's fingerprints and a DNA sample to check for any links to unsolved crimes.

Vulnerable inmates who have enemies or who otherwise are in jeopardy are placed in protective custody, and they eat, exercise and live together away from others who might harm them.

"There's a hierarchy among inmates and a strong stigma against sex offenders," said University of Missouri-St. Louis criminal justice expert Beth Huebner. "This case is so high-profile, and the crimes are pretty egregious. It puts him at substantially higher risk of victimization in prison."

Corrections also has an isolated environment known as "administrative segregation" for offenders who are at risk of hurting themselves or others. It's also used as discipline for a serious rule violation. For 23 hours a day, they live, eat and sleep in a small cell, getting out for exercise one hour a day.

"If he got it, it'd be well deserved," said Scott Sherman, the lawyer representing Shawn Hornbeck and his parents. "I don't think there is a place punitive enough for him in our system."

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