OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — The younger of two teenage brothers accused in the stabbing deaths of their parents and three siblings can be tried as an adult even though he is 17, the Oklahoma Court of Criminal Appeals ruled Thursday.
The decision backed a ruling handed down by Tulsa County Special Judge Martha Rupp Carter in October that rejected a request by defense attorneys Michael Bever be certified as a juvenile delinquent or youthful offender in the slayings. The age of adulthood for such cases in Oklahoma is as young as 15.
Bever and his brother, Robert Bever, 19, are charged with five counts of first-degree murder in the July attack that killed their parents and siblings, the youngest of whom was 5. Michael Bever was 16 at the time of the deaths. A preliminary hearing for the brothers is set for Feb. 23.
The appeals court handed its decision shortly after Michael Bever's defense attorney, Rob Nigh, challenged the constitutionality of state laws that permit the teen to be tried as an adult on the murder charges. If convicted, Michael Bever faces life in prison without the possibility of parole. If he was tried and convicted as a juvenile, he would be treated in the state's juvenile justice system and released when he reaches adulthood, possibly by the age of 19.
"That child will never see the light of day," Nigh told the five-judge court during oral arguments. "Persons that are children should have a due process right to seek treatment in the juvenile justice system."
Nigh said courts have recognized that there are biological differences between adults and children. He has suggested that Michael Bever struggles with mental health issues and indicated he may have been abused prior to the slayings.
"Children are not miniature adults," Nigh said. "Children should not be subjected to adult punishment."
Tulsa County District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler said state law gives prosecutors the discretion to charge someone Michael Bever's age as an adult if they are accused of multiple homicides.
"Public safety ought to be of paramount concern," Kunzweiler told the appeals court. He told reporters following oral arguments there is no evidence Michael Bever was abused before the attack on his family.
Prosecutors allege he conspired with his brother to kill their father, David Bever, and mother, April, along with siblings Daniel, Christopher and Victoria.
The Oklahoma Medical Examiner's Office has said autopsies indicated all five family members were stabbed dozens of times and died of multiple, sharp-force injuries. David Bever had at least 28 total wounds to his body and April Bever had at least 48 total wounds, according to autopsy reports.
Two family members survived the attack. One of them, a teenage girl, plans to testify for the prosecution at the brothers' preliminary hearing.
Nigh, who has said he would take the case to the U.S Supreme Court if necessary, said he was disappointed in the appellate court's decision but did not say whether further appeals are planned.