Though prosecutors cut a deal earlier this week with Robert Bever, sparing the teenager the death penalty and a high-profile trial, it seems less likely his younger brother will avoid the courtroom.
Robert and Michael Bever were arrested last year following the discovery of the bodies of their parents and three siblings inside the family’s house in Broken Arrow. Believing, Robert Bever told police, that they could slay more than 100 people during a lengthy killing spree, the teenage brothers started their alleged rampage at home.
Earlier this year, during a preliminary hearing, a police detective testified that Robert Bever, 19, detailed to them after his arrest how the brothers’ plans went awry almost immediately. Intending to first kill their 13-year-old sister inside their bedroom, they were surprised how hard she fought back. When their mother, April, came upstairs, they killed her, then killed their father, David, and two brothers, Daniel, 12, and Christopher, 6. They killed their 5-year-old sister, police said, but fled from the home before they could kill their youngest sister, who was only one year old.
Two sisters survived, and it was with them in mind that Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said earlier this week that he was willing to forgo the death penalty in Robert Bever’s case.
“Ultimately, the single most important factor in my decision to resolve this case centered upon the needs of the surviving two children who lost everything in their lives. Those children deserve to be able to move on with their lives as best as they can without the continued torment of a trial and decades of appeals that a death penalty case would most likely bring,” Kunzweiler said in a statement.
“While I believe that Robert Bever deserves the death penalty for his savage actions, I feared that a death penalty prosecution would result in his teenage sister being forced to recount and relive the brutal details of the carnage that her brothers wrought again and again. The toddler sister, who mercifully was asleep and did not witness the horror, would grow up learning details of the carnage in repeated court hearings that could easily stretch into her teen years or beyond.”
The plea was a bold move for Kunzweiler, as DAs who eschew seeking the death penalty can face some public criticism from those who feel the move signals a “soft on crime” stance.
“Ultimately, the decision on how to proceed with this case rests upon my shoulders and I take responsibility for the decisions that I make,” Kunzweiler said in the statement. “The surviving teenaged child requested that I make sure that Robert Bever never gets out of prison. His plea and sentence guarantees that he will spend the rest of his days left to his demons behind the walls of a penitentiary where he will never draw a breath of free air again.”
While Robert Bever’s piece of the quintuple murder case has ended, his younger brother’s continues. And while Kunzweiler’s decision spared everyone involved a lengthy, gruesome trial, there’s an incredibly slim chance 17-year-old Michael Bever receives a plea offer worth taking and resolves his case without a jury trial. In fact, a judge recently set a trial date for him next June, nearly two years after the alleged massacre.
Robert Bever, as an adult, faced the death penalty. Though he reportedly attempted suicide while in the Tulsa Jail, he ultimately decided that life in a state prison was preferable to death row. But Michael Bever was a 16-year-old juvenile at the time of the killings and thus cannot face the death penalty. Facing a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole, there’s no potential death penalty hanging over his head to encourage him to accept a plea deal, and the chances the state would offer anything less than a life sentence are likely zero.
Plus, his attorney, Chief Tulsa County Public Defender Rob Nigh, has repeatedly argued in court that even life without parole is too harsh of a punishment, considering his client’s age. Nigh’s attempts have frequently been shot down in court, but he has held firm to his belief that a life-without-parole sentence for Michael Bever is equivalent to the death penalty.
In a document filed last year in the case, Nigh called the ability to label a minor as an adult because of the severity of the alleged crime an “arbitrary designation.”
Juveniles who commit most crimes are prosecuted through Juvenile Court, where their records are sealed and punishments are less severe than in adult courts — the argument being that their brains are still developing, their decision-making processes are still developing, and they mentally may not be able to fully comprehend the severity of their actions or potential punishments. However, a juvenile who commits a homicide can be certified as an adult and can be imprisoned with no hope of parole.
Nigh pointed to Miller v. Alabama, a case in which the United States Supreme Court ruled that mandatory life-without-parole sentences for juveniles, even those charged with murder, are unconstitutional.
However, the ruling doesn’t forbid a life-without parole sentence, only that judges should hand down those sentences rarely. For prison inmates across the nation, many who have spent decades behind bars for murders committed when they were juveniles, the ruling has given them hope at parole.
For Michael Bever, it gives him a chance to avoid spending his entire life behind bars.
Nigh said Friday that he intends to fight for his client’s rights, but that he would “do it in a way to avoid any further trauma to the surviving sisters.”
“In the preliminary hearing, we allowed her statement to be presented through testimony of the detective and waived an hearsay objections,” Nigh said. “We did that to avoid causing (the 13-year-old sister) to have to take the stand.”