A 16-year-old boy accused of working with his older brother to savagely murder five members of his family and attempt to kill at least one more will stand trial as an adult after losing his appeal.
Michael Bever, 16, and his brother Robert Bever, 18, are each charged with five counts of first degree murder in the stabbing deaths of their mother, father, brothers (aged 12 and 7), and sister (aged 5). They are also each charged with assault and battery with intent to kill in the stabbing of a 13-year-old sister who survived the assault. A 2-year-old sister was unharmed.
Under Oklahoma law, any juvenile aged 15, 16, or 17 accused of first degree murder is charged as an adult. Juveniles aged 13 or 14 who are charged with first degree murder are charged as adults, but they may be able to be certified as a youthful offender instead.
An attorney for Michael Bever challenged the law which automatically certifies a 15, 16, or 17-year-old as an adult, saying the law does not allow for due process for these juvenile offenders, and it does not take into consideration the fact that teenagers brains are not yet fully developed. He argued that allowing adult sentencing for a child is a violation of the Eighth Amendment prohibition against cruel and unusual punishment. After all, a life sentence for a 50-year-old is likely much, much shorter than the same sentence for a 16-year-old.
The lawyer told the court, "This case presents the court with an opportunity to reconcile provisions of the Oklahoma penal and Oklahoma children's code in a way that's not possible under current the statutory scheme."
The Tulsa County District Attorney, Steve Kunzweiler disputed the unconstitutionality of the law, pointing out that nearly 30 other jurisdictions have similar laws regarding the prosecution of juvenile murder suspects as adults, and saying that the law does not require a judge or jury to give a life sentence to a juvenile defendant convicted of first degree murder.
After only ten minutes of conference, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals announced its ruling rejecting the teen's appeal and upholding the state's statute requiring minors aged 15, 16, or 17 to be charged as adults in first degree murder cases.
The Bever brothers have been held without bond since their arrest in late July after a child called 9-1-1 to report his brothers were attacking the family before the line went dead. When police arrived, the 13-year-old sister who survived the attack also identified her brothers as the assailants. Police found the two hiding in the woods a short distance away from the family home.
Preliminary hearing conferences for the two have been rescheduled for February 23 and 24.