A judge in Lander sentenced a Fremont County man Thursday to two life sentences in prison Thursday for breaking into a Riverton couple’s bedroom nearly five years ago, murdering the man and then executing the woman as she fought for breath.
Brandon Donald Monroe, who is 21 this year, was 16 on Jan. 4, 2019, when he rounded up some friends on the Wind River Indian Reservation, used some methamphetamine and drove to the Riverton home of Rudy Perez and Jocelyn Watt.
Seeking money and marijuana, he broke into their home and killed them both.
The victims were both 30. Watt was a few days shy of her 31st birthday.
Monroe wasn’t apprehended until three years later when Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation agents secured a confession from the only living witness of Watt’s murder, Patrick SunRhodes.
Monroe’s two life sentences are to run simultaneously.
He Gets To Live
Monroe’s sentencing hearing in Fremont County District Court evoked aching and desperate emotions from many in attendance.
Watt’s family members wept at the podium before Fremont County District Court Judge Jason Conder, telling him that there would never be justice, never be rationale for the pain they’ve endured.
“He still gets to live,” said Watt’s sister Tianna Wagon, of Monroe. “I constantly look to the days ahead, relying on my faith to carry me through. That pain that I felt that day, when I received that call, and going over to my sister’s house, I don’t wish it on anybody.”
When Wagon left the stand to sit in the gallery with her family, she gathered her 5-year-old nephew into her arms, held his short-buzzed head in the crook of her neck and rocked him from side to side.
‘Yell At The Wind’
Nicole Wagon’s voice grew progressively more hushed throughout her testimony. She is Jocelyn Watt’s mother.
“I will never understand why you had to do this,” she said, turning abruptly toward Monroe, who sat at the defense table with his two lawyers, shackled in an orange jumpsuit.
“For weed and money,” interjected a woman sitting behind Monroe in the gallery.
“Excuse me?” said Wagon, turning toward the woman.
“That’s why – “ the woman began, but Conder interrupted her, asking her to leave.
The woman left.
Conder warned all spectators that only attorneys and those invited to the stand could speak. Anyone with an outburst “can go yell at the wind.”
Nicole Wagon burst into tears.
‘Can You Fix It?’
After a short sidebar discussion between the attorneys and judge, the hearing continued.
Nicole Wagon described some fond memories of her daughter.
Watt would call into her mother’s house, “Are you decent? I’m comin’ in!”
Watt would also get migraines and ask her mother, “Can you fix it? Can you fix it?”
“My hope is that when your journey is ended, that the creator will bestow on you the pain – the anger, the tears,” said Nicole Wagon, addressing Monroe. “Then and only then will you get to know the severity of what you did.”
And Years From Now
Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun prosecuted the case and spoke briefly after Wagon’s testimony, emphasizing that Monroe murdered both victims in their bedroom, what was supposed to be their safest space.
Perez fought “as hard as he could” to get to the shotgun in the closet and save them both, but it wasn’t enough and Monroe killed him.
Then he killed Watt in cold blood, as LeBrun described it.
“Years from now when this transcript is being read, whether I’m on this earth or not, I want it to be known that Brandon Monroe took Jocelyn Watt’s life for absolutely no other reason than she was a witness,” said LeBrun.
Not Lost On Me
Curtis Cheney, Monroe’s attorney, said the tragedy the family has endured is not lost on him.
He said he wished more than anything that Monroe could take it back.
The attorney said he also finds it sad how young Monroe was when he murdered the couple.
“If the court could imagine the typical 16-year-old, they’re impulsive, they’re not mature; their brains haven’t fully developed,” said Cheney.
Introducing drugs only made everything worse, he added.
“I don’t think Mr. Monroe planned for this to happen,” said Cheney. “I think he regrets it every day.”
Monroe had dropped out of school after the eighth grade.
Cheney said Monroe plans to pursue further education in prison and get substance abuse treatment.
Monroe did not address Judge Conder during the hearing.
Cheney said Monroe’s only statement would be the one he gave in his pre-sentence investigative interview, accepting responsibility for what he did.
“I was pretty well intoxicated,” Conder read aloud from Monroe’s statement. “A gun got pulled so I pulled mine, and (I) shot.”
Monroe’s statement continued: “I want to say I’m sorry to both the Perez and Watt family. I take full responsibility for my actions.”
Horrible, Heinous, Atrocious
Conder called the crimes “horrible, heinous, atrocious acts.”
“There’s very little I can say that will matter and make a difference,” the judge said. “Nothing could’ve turned back the hands of time.”
The judge wished Monroe luck on pursuing further education and treatment in prison, and expressed some subdued appreciation that the man admitted to the murders.
He also ordered Monroe to pay restitution to cover the costs of Watt’s and Perez’s burial costs: $7,794 for Watt, and $7,000 for Perez.
It is not possible under Wyoming law for Monroe to have faced the death penalty, since he was a minor during the murders.
When Fremont County Sheriff’s Office deputies placed Monroe in a van after the hearing, soon to be transferred from the local jail to the Wyoming Department of Corrections, a woman wailed and ran toward him even as one of her loved ones held her and restrained her.
Clair McFarland can be reached at Clair@CowboyStateDaily.com.