Despite a judicial ruling Monday that 16-year-old Michael Bever will be treated as an adult for the five counts of first-degree murder he is charged with, that does not mean the legal wrangling in his case is over.
Bever’s attorney, Rob Nigh, Tulsa County chief public defender, said he anticipates a quick appeal to Oklahoma’s Court of Criminal Appeals. That appeal should be heard prior to the Jan. 22, 2016, date set for Bever’s preliminary hearing.
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said Monday he does not think the OCCA will side with Bever in that appeal. During Monday’s hearing, Nigh indicated he planned to appeal the ruling all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court if necessary.
Broken Arrow police allege Bever and his 18-year-old brother, Robert Bever, attacked their family July 22 with knives and hatchets, killing five of their family members — 52-year-old David Bever, 41-year-old April Bever, 12-year-old Daniel Bever, 7-year-old Christopher Bever and 5-year-old Victoria Bever.
Two girls, a 13-year-old and 2-year-old, survived the attacks, though the 13-year-old was hospitalized with severe wounds. The 2-year-old was unharmed, but police believe she would have been killed had a 911 call placed from the house not interrupted the attacks. Kunzweiler said on Friday that the 13-year-old survivor will testify at the preliminary hearing.
Weeks later, Broken Arrow city officials released a batch of documents which included notes from a dispatcher who sent police officers to the Bever house that night.
In it the dispatcher states he or she was told that one of the brothers was attacking the family, then spoke with a male who said “Hello,” and hung up.
“I could hear some comotion (sic) and multiple ppl,” the dispatcher’s notes state. “Had an open line with this phone, there were a lot of screaming in the background. & I could hear someone trying to be quiet & crying.”
The dispatcher tried to call the home back but those calls were not answered, the notes show. Eleven minutes after the first call from the home, responding police officers notified dispatch they found stabbing victims inside the home.
The brothers were arrested shortly thereafter, hiding in a nearby wooded area. The dispatch notes state that one of the brothers was bitten by a police K-9, and “needs to be seen.”
A search warrant filed later indicated police believe weapons and “electronic devices such as computers, thumb drives … that can store data of information on the planning and execution of a mass homicide” were expected to be found in the house.
Possible punishments for Michael Bever
Nigh’s argument is complicated because it weighs state statutes against recent U.S. Supreme Court decisions.
Prior U.S. Supreme Court rulings have declared that a 16-year-old cannot be given the death penalty, and that mandatory life-without-parole sentences cannot be the only option available for an offender younger than 18, because that sentence would be the “functional equivalent to the death penalty.”
Here’s where it gets tricky: Under Oklahoma law, if found guilty, Michael Bever would face two sentencing options: Life with parole or life without parole.
Nigh’s argument stems from the fact that his client faces five murder charges, as well as one count of assault and battery with intent to kill. Even if Bever is given the option of life with the possibility of parole, he may have to serve those terms consecutively.
In Nigh’s argument, it then becomes a math problem. Each murder count Bever faces is an 85 percent crime, so the earliest he could be paroled would be following a 38 1/2-year term in prison.
Assuming Bever was imprisoned sometime in 2016, the earliest he could be released (if the terms were served consecutively) would be 2208.
If life without the possibility of parole is the “functional equivalent” of the death penalty for someone under 18, a sentence where the teen could not be eligible for parole until he is 210 years old would be the same, Nigh argued.
But Carter disagreed, as did Kunzweiler, who said “Oklahoma law is very clear” on the parameters of the case.
“Anybody who is going to commit a crime, first-degree murder, if you’re this age, you’re going to be treated as an adult,” he said following the hearing.
Nigh suggested more than once during the hearing that there may have been some form of “abuse” inside the Bever home that may have led to the gruesome killings, though he did not get more specific than that.
“We will present evidence concerning his upbringing and childhood and the things he experienced at a reverse certification hearing if we are given that opportunity,” Nigh said Monday. “If that opportunity does not come … we believe he will have the constitutional right to present that evidence at a later proceeding.”
Nigh argued Friday that the frontal lobe, the part of the brain he said controlled “putting on the brakes” during decision making that might have taken place before the Bever brothers allegedly decided to kill their family, is nowhere near fully formed at the age of 16.
“The reality, medically, is that 16-year-olds have insufficient brain development to make adult decisions … it’s indisputable that children are affected by their environment, it’s also indisputable, scientifically, that a 16-year-old’s frontal brain development is not the same as an adult.”
Also on Monday, the state medical examiners office released autopsy reports for all five victims, documents that paint a picture of the brutality of the attacks.
All five victims were stabbed multiple times — the youngest, their 5-year-old, 39-pound sister, was stabbed at least 17 times, including one injury that cut through her right jugular vein.
The 7-year-old male victim was found wearing yellow pajamas, while the 12-year-old male victim (who was pronounced dead on the front yard of the family home) was wearing a red shirt and blue jeans, carrying a wrench and a guitar pick in his pocket.
April Bever suffered “at least” 48 “sharp force injuries,” including 18 to the head or neck, and 13 to the torso. David Bever was found with at least 28 total wounds, including a neck wound that sliced his right carotid artery. Both parents had blood on the soles of their feet. That and the sheer number of wounds they suffered may indicate they attempted to fight back during the slayings.
David Bever was stabbed once so hard that the knife struck his third thoracic vertebrae, which sits between the shoulder blades just below the neck.
Broken Arrow police believe either the 12-year-old or 7-year-old brother called 911 during the attacks, an action that likely saved the life of both surviving sisters, including a 2-year-old baby that survived being born about four months premature. The 12-year-old boy was stabbed at least nine times, including one upper left back wound in which the knife scratched the boy’s scapula, punctured the left lung and left and right pulmonary artery. It also penetrated the boy’s aorta, trachea and esophagus.
The 7-year-old boy was stabbed at least six times, including a wound that punctured his left lung and fractured a rib.