One of the most heinous familicide cases in American history occurred in Broken Arrow, Oklahoma in 2015. Two brothers, aged 16 and 18, tortured and killed their parents and three of their five siblings. The older of the brothers, Robert, has been widely considered to be the mastermind of the murder plot and coerced his younger brother into helping him,” (Youngman & Jensen, 2018, p. 1). Both brothers did receive multiple life sentences in the trial that concluded in 2018. Robert had plead guilty in 2016, and the younger brother Michael was tried separately (“Michael Bever, Okla. teen, guilty of fatally stabbing parents, 3 younger siblings,” 2018). In fact, half of the jurors in the younger brother’s trial “sent the judge a letter asking that Michael Bever get the chance to go free one day,” (Silman, 2018, p. 1). The Broken Arrow case shows how two brothers who collaborated on the same crime operated with vastly different motives and intent.
Given how horrific the case is, it may be easy to dismiss the psychological issues and environmental causes precipitating the familicide. However, criminologists need to thoroughly assess the situation, taking into account the multiple interrelated variables that led up to the crime. The Broken Arrow incident showcases the importance of environmental cues, including child abuse but also broader social norms embedded in the society. Younger brother Michael does seem to have acted more out of coercion, if not outright fear of his older brother, which, had he been an adult, would have made him seem even more culpable given the lack of evidence showcasing mental illness in his case. The fact that Michael was only sixteen at the time of the crime demonstrates the relevance of a separate juvenile justice system, suggesting that trying juveniles as adults can indeed prove problematic. “Adolescents are more likely to kill because the normal turbulence of adolescence runs up against constraints they perceive have been placed upon them in a setting of limited alternatives,” (Heide, 2016, p. 1). The main factors to consider in the Broken Arrow case include the unique features of juvenile familicide, the role of child abuse and related trauma; and the role mental illness plays in cases like these.
The Broken Arrow case bears almost all the signs of a typical familicide, which is an overwhelmingly male phenomenon, as well as a primarily white phenomenon (Fegadel & Heide, 2016; Whiteley, Terrell, & Bodman, 2016). The Bever brothers were in fact white males, albeit slightly younger than the average perpetrator in familicide cases: which is 26 years of age (Fegadel & Heide, 2016). However, juvenile perpetrators are not uncommon (Fegadel & Heide, 2016). While guns and other firearms are the most commonly used weapons in familicide cases, research based on the National Incident-Based Reporting System shows firearms predominated as murder weapons in these incidents; however, when a biological mother was one of the victims, offenders used more diverse methods,” (Fegadel & Heide, 2016, p. 6). In the Broken Arrow case, the brothers used diverse methods with the main murder weapon being knives. Interestingly, the brothers had ordered guns and ammunition “to be delivered to their home the day after their family was killed,” (Couri, 2016, p. 1). The brothers had, however, been plotting to kill their parents long before, with Robert apparently “planning to kill his parents since he was 13,” using weapons like knives and axes (Couri, 2016, p.
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1). Robert claimed he wanted to execute the plan before the arrival of the shipment of ammunition because he “didn’t want any interference,” (Silman, 2016, p. 1). By interference, Robert may have meant his own learning curve with regards to mastering the use of guns, which they had not had access to before, or he could have meant that the shipment might have drawn attention to them when it arrived in the mail. Familicide cases are “usually committed in the victim’s house,” as with this case (Bourget, Gagne & Labelle, 2007, p. 306).…
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…and psychotic disorders are also implicated (Bourget, Gagne & Labelle, 2007, p. 306). Mental health issues and previous domestic violence experiences are factors shared in common by almost all similar instances of familicide (Whiteley, M., Terrell, N. & Bodman, D.A. (2016), p. 1).
Desire for Fame
A desire for fame, recognition, and respect drove the boys’ to murder. It is likely that the intense, irrational desire for fame via murder could be construed as a distorted transfer of their need for their parents’ love, affection, and respect. Apparently “Robert Bever wanted to be famous for being a serial killer,” (Silman, 2018, p. 1). His motive was “to gain fame as a serial killer,” (Salinger, 2016, p. 1). The brothers apparently wanted to keep on killing “so that they can go on some kind of cross-country crime spree,” (News Corp Australia Network, 2018, p. 1). However, it is unlikely that a desire fame alone would have led to the familicide; mental health and a history of abuse is what created the delusional thinking leading to their twisted association between love, fame, and murder.
The two brothers were tried differently in part because Robert confessed instantly and testified that he was the mastermind. “Robert Bever was the mastermind of the murder plot and coerced his younger brother into helping him,” (Youngman & Jensen, 2018). In fact, “Michael said that he didn’t like the plan the minute it started, and confessed to being scared when the violence started,” (Querry, 2018, p. 1). Representatives of Michael’s defense counsel claimed that Michael was “honestly a gentle young man who was misled by a mentally ill older brother, and there's a lot more layers to him as a human being than just what happened back in 2015,” (“Michael Bever, Okla. teen, guilty of fatally stabbing parents, 3 younger siblings,” 2018). The defense’s case proved successful enough and compelling enough for the jury to have them actually leave open the possibility for Michael’s parole in….....
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Youngman, C. & Jenson, A. (2018). Robert Bever sobs in younger brother's murder trial: 'I don't know what I was thinking'. Fox 25 News. 4 May, 2018, https://okcfox.com/news/local/robert-bever-sobs-in-brothers-murder-trial-i-dont-know-what-i-was-thinking