- February 13, 2018
James Matthew McDevitt, a Palm Coast man who pleaded guilty April 16 to raping a woman in a Flagler Beach vacant lot in June 2013, will spend 40 years in state prison, and be on sexual offender probation for another 20 years.
He had faced up to life in prison.
“It is clear that (McDevitt) has had no indication of violence in his prior history, and no violations of the law,” Circuit Judge David Walsh said. “That being said, the court is concerned with the fact that the defendant’s underlying, now shown, ability to commit such an offense creates a danger to the community.”
McDevitt, 23, spoke only briefly, right before the judge announced his sentence. He apologized to the victim.
“I hope that someday she’ll be able to forgive me, because that’s not the man I am, and I hope that she’ll be able to get through everything,” he said.
McDevitt’s victim, who was walking home from the beach the night he attacked and raped her, testified tearfully at the May 29 sentencing hearing, asking Circuit Judge David Walsh to sentence McDevitt to life.
“He stole my whole life from me, and I will never be the same again,” she said. “It would only be fair for him to pay with his life.” She was 38 at the time of the attack.
She told the court she had expected to die that night — McDevitt at one point chocked her until she lost consciousness — and had bitten McDevitt’s cheek in an attempt to help police identify her attacker if he killed her. Since the attack, she said, she has had headaches and nightmares, dreaded nightfall and become “riddled with fear.”
“He brutally attacked me over and over again,” she said. “He forced my face into the ground until I was only breathing dirt into my airways, hoping to be able to breathe again. … I thought I was going to die; I knew I was going to die.”
McDevitt, sitting in the court room in an orange jumpsuit, looked down at his hands as the victim testified.
At the hearing, prosecutor Christina Opsahl played a 911 call from a local man who saw the attack from his home. McDevitt, who only ran when the headlights from the police squad cars hit him, was detained at the scene.
Michael Lambert, McDevitt’s attorney, called numerous witnesses to speak on McDevitt’s behalf. Among them were Cheryl Massaro, a state adviser for the Department of Juvenile Justice and director of the Flagler County Youth Center and George Washington Carver Center; and Pastor James Silano, the pastor of Grace Tabernacle Ministries.
“I know James very well,” Massaro said. “I’ve seen him in all different circumstances, and I’m appealing to this court for leniency. … He is accepting his portion of this.”
Silano said McDevitt had volunteered with his food pantry. He also asked for leniency.
“This is sad for all parties involved,” Silano said. “He’s admitted to this egregious act, and my concern is that he would have some kind of life after prison to regroup and recover. … I’ve never seen this to be a part of his character.”
Lambert also called some of McDevitt’s friends and neighbors, who called McDevitt “polite” and “respectful,” and said the rape was a “mistake.” Lisa McDevitt, James McDevitt’s mother, said she’d raised all of her four children to be “good Christian people with good values.”
“My heart will never believe that my son set out to commit any crime,” she said. “Sometimes good people make bad choices. I doesn’t make them bad, it make them human.”
Opsahl contested the notion that the brutal rape was a “mistake.”
“This is not a ‘mistake,’” she said. “A mistake is having one too many beers and getting behind the wheel of a car. This is predatory. Mr. McDevitt made the decision to follow her. Mr. McDevitt made the decision to throw her on the ground. Mr. McDevitt made the decision to rip off her underwear.” And then he made the decision to rape her, stopping only when police arrived, Opsahl said.
The fact that numerous people showed up to testify for McDevitt, she said, “shows his ability to hide his violent, deviant sexual behavior.”
“Mr. McDevitt has had the ability, whatever it is, to do this on this day, and nobody ever saw this coming,” she said. “There’s another side to Mr. McDevitt that’s a dark, violent, sexually deviant side.”
Opsahl said the only way to “ensure the safety of any woman from Mr. McDevitt’s violent sexual deviancy” was to sentence him to life in prison. If the judge were unwilling to sentence McDevitt to life, she said, the state recommended 40 years — the current age of his victim.
Lambert told the court the rape was an “incredibly egregious, unspeakable” offense, and that he’d “been over this case from many angles” and couldn’t make sense of it. “I see some good in this young man,” Lambert said. “I see the good that these other people see. … What happened is not who he is.”
Walsh, before sentencing McDevitt to 40 years in prison with credit for 715 days already served, said he had considered both the violence of the offense and its impact on the victim, and McDevitt’s youth and willingness to take responsibility for it.
McDevitt had initially pleaded not guilty to two charges of sexual battery with a deadly weapon.
He later changed his plea at a status hearing in exchange for reduced charges, pleading guilty to one charge of sexual battery with force, a life felony.