It’s impossible to know precisely what led James McDevitt to switch and plead guilty to raping a woman in Flagler Beach on June 14, 2013. He has been in jail since, and was days from going on trial on two counts of rape when, on April 16, he changed his plea. He appears before Circuit Judge J. David Walsh at 10 a.m. Friday for his sentencing on an amended charge of one count of rape with force.
McDevitt, 23, faces up to life in prison without parole. What minimum prison time his sentencing score sheet will show will not be known until sentencing, but it’ll be entirely up to the judge to decide his punishment. The decision will follow what’s expected to be a lengthy hearing featuring several witnesses: family members who’ll speak of McDevitt in hopes of mitigating the severity of the sentence, and witnesses for the prosecution aiming for a more severe punishment.
The sentencing hearing will be the closest approximation to a trial, and will open the widest window yet into the prosecution’s and the defense’s strategies, revealing more details from that early morning of June 14, when McDevitt, who was with two friends, approached a then 38-year-old woman and eventually attacked her.
But had the case gone to trial, one element would have been at the heart of the prosecution’s argument: the lengthy 911 call Robert Tier, a pastor, made from his porch as he witnessed McDevitt seemingly to him brutalizing the woman: “I hope he’s not killing her,” Tier says at one point as the 911 operator repeatedly keeps him from intervening. The call is published for the first time below.
Tier is heard in the call pressing the operator to hurry the police response while he himself sought to stop what he was witnessing. At the end of the call he’s heard blaming himself for not having intervened, though as the only witness to the situation, he also proved to be the only factor that enabled a police response (delayed as it was), and a trump card for the prosecution.
The nearly 9-minute call, which may have been longer—it’s redacted ins several parts—begins with Tier describing the woman as screaming and McDevitt “holding her mouth,” and wondering if McDevitt had a weapon (he did not). “It’s getting pretty bad,” he says. “He’s trying to subdue her, keep her—I don’t know, they might be intoxicated, possibly.”
He tells the operator where they were, interrupting himself with a “what the hell,” and telling the operator he should help the woman. The operator asks him to keep describing them. “He’s holding her to the ground right now,” Tier says. “She’s on the ground, he’s on the ground.”
He describes their location, then asks again: “Do I need to go over there?”
Robert Tier’s Call to 911
“No, I have them on the way, I don’t want you to put yourself in danger,” the operator tells Tier. “Just keep an eye on them for me. Can you hear them or anything, or no, not from where you are? Sir?”
“She’s crying. He’s—I don’t know, I don’t know what he’s doing over there. You guys need to hurry up and get here. I’m going to be running over there because I’m going to feel really bad if he’s—“
The operator interrupts him, asking him if he has any weapons (he said no). “OK, I don’t want you to put yourself in danger,” she says.
“Oh, boy, Jesus,” Tier is heard whispering, then his words are redacted, and he’s heard saying, “raping her or what.”
There’s another pause, and again Tier tells the operator he’s going to run there, and again the operator tells him authorities are on the way. “It shouldn’t be much longer,” she says. By then the call is five and a half minutes long.
She asks him what they’re doing. “I don’t know, he’s holding her down on the ground,” but he hedges about the details, saying it’s dark, as the operator tells him to “keep yourself out of it.”
“He’s got her pinned to the ground right there,” he says. “They’re in the dark, you can’t really see them but they’re right there.” Tier by then has been joined by his wife on the porch, and is heard pointing McDevitt’s location. The call is seven minutes old when a deputy passes by Tier’s house. And keeps going. The cops are lost. “Oh, Jesus, they need to go back, they need to turn around and go back,” he tells the dispatcher. A minute later they’ve found the lot and McDevitt. “There they are, they’ve got him,” Tier says.
The arrest report would describe how McDevitt immediately got up and ran as a police light shone on him. He would later tell police that he feared the woman’s friends or family had come for him.
“Jesus. Jesus,” Tier says. “Officers are running after the guy. He was raping her, and I was just sitting here.”
The woman by then was on the ground, crying, and repeating to a Flagler Beach deputy that McDevitt, to whom she pointed, had choked her and raped her. The sheriff’s dispatch notes describe her as “semi responsive” as the dispatcher called for a rescue unit.
In his written statement—previously unpublished–Tier said that he saw McDevitt holding the woman’s mouth early in the encounter, “trying to subdue her. It did not look right to me.” He went into his house to retrieve his cell phone and came back out. “By the time I got back out to the front porch I witnessed a man pulling a woman across the street by the fire hydrant, against her will, in the parking lot of the Orchard Spa parking lot. At this time the woman was thrown on the ground with a white male on top of her as I was reporting the incident to dispatch. I told dispatch that it appeared as though this man was rapeing [sic.] this woman, due to the fact that I could see him moving back and forth on top of her.”
Previously of 12 Portia Lane in Palm Coast, McDevitt had been held until his guilty plea on $101,000 bond, jail time that will be credited to his prison sentence, assuming it’s not a life term.
The notes indicate that police detained McDevitt at 3:07. At 3:12, dispatch notes describe the incident as a possible rape. All that was known about the victim in the record—until Kim Carney, the Flagler Beach city commissioner, disseminated her name and some of her personal history in an email to a reporter, in an attempt to smear the victim’s reputation—was that she was 5’7’’ and had “blond or strawberry” hair. Carney’s actions were subsequently reprimanded by her colleagues on the city commission. (Carney serves on the Flagler County Auditorium board and is a friend of Auditorium Director Lisa McDevitt, James McDevitt’s mother, and has conducted fund-raisings for his defense on his mother’s behalf. James McDevitt is represented by Daytona Beach attorney Michael Lambert.)
The sentencing hearing takes place in Courtroom 401 at the Flagler County Courthouse.