Case of teen accused in 2019 murders moved to district court

RIVERTON — The teen accused of shooting Jocelyn Watt and Rudy Perez to death three years ago in Riverton was transferred to Fremont County District Court on Wednesday for felony-level murder prosecution. 

Brandon Donald Monroe is now 19 years old but was 16 when Watt and Perez were found dead in Watt's home near City Park in Riverton, on Jan. 5, 2019 - exactly three years before his preliminary hearing. 

He now is charged with two counts of first-degree murder or, in the alternate, two counts of felony murder, which is a variation of the first-degree murder charge punishable by no less than life in prison. 

But before the preliminary hearing Tuesday after which Riverton Circuit Court Judge Wesley Roberts ruled that there is probable cause to send the case to the higher court, Monroe's attorney first argued against the state's decision to charge him as an adult. 

Washakie County public defender Curtis Cheney had submitted a motion to Roberts' court to pause the case in order to give Fremont County Attorney Patrick LeBrun more time to consider whether to charge Monroe as a juvenile instead. 

LeBrun countered that although he filed charges against Monroe just one day after investigators received an eyewitness account of the alleged murders, he still has been familiar with the case for three years, and with Monroe through other incidents. 

"This office has given due consideration to the factors," said LeBrun. "The state made a determination that this case should be charged in adult court... and I'm confident in it." 

Ultimately, Roberts denied Cheney's motion to pause the proceedings. 

LeBrun called to the witness stand Wyoming Division of Criminal Investigation special agent Juliet Fish. 

Fish had interviewed Patrick SunRhodes on Dec. 9 at the Wyoming Boys School in Worland. 

She said SunRhodes gave a detailed account of being in Watt's home at the time of the murders. 

SunRhodes, who is now 17, also is charged with felony murder for his alleged involvement. 

Fish related that the boy left his home on Beaver Creek and got into a truck with Korbin Headley and Bryce Teran, to drive around and drink, on Jan. 4, 2019. 

Headley, 18, is charged with aggravated burglary and Teran, 24, with felony murder, each for his alleged involvement. 

Teran picked up Monroe at the latter's home. And after a time spent drinking together in the truck, Monroe retreated back into his home, then re-entered the truck with methamphetamine and a small-caliber gun, Fish related. 

Monroe is said to have smoked the meth, saying he needed to "take care of business" in town. Teran drove the group to Riverton.

During the drive, SunRhodes recalled, Monroe loaded the gun. 

SunRhodes remembered asking Headley to ask Monroe if he could go home, but Headley said Monroe said no, SunRhodes couldn't go home. 

Fish explained in court that SunRhodes was concerned about Monroe's behavior with the gun -- so that SunRhodes switched seats to sit behind Monroe in the truck -- and he also was concerned that two of the boys in the truck were sporting opposing gang colors: one in red, one in blue. 

Teran parked behind Watt's apartment, SunRhodes recalled. 

Monroe told SunRhodes to go in with him. Monroe shouldered the back door open, breaking its glass window, Fish stated, then the pair went inside. 

SunRhodes heard gunshots after Monroe went into the bedroom. He also heard a man's voice saying "What the (expletive) are you doing here?"

When SunRhodes walked into the room, he'd recalled, he saw Rudy Perez struggling against Monroe, who said "Get the (expletive) off me." 

Then, the eyewitness had told Fish, he watched Monroe shoot Perez in the head. 

SunRhodes also recalled seeing Watt lying facedown on the other side of the bed, shaking. 

Perez had two bullets in his head and one in his bicep, said Fish. Watt had two bullets and one fragment in her head. The five whole bullets found, she said, were from the same gun. 

LeBrun asked Fish if Sun-Rhodes had related any details about Watt's home that were unknown to the public. 

Fish said yes, SunRhodes's description of Teran's parking job behind the house matched the tire treads found in the packed snow.

She said SunRhodes also had described seeing a blue-and-white motorcycle in the kitchen of the home. Perez had, in fact, parked his blue-and-white motorcycle in Watt's kitchen. 

Originally, SunRhodes had said he'd witnessed both murders, but he later said he thought he'd only watched Perez being shot. 

SunRhodes ran out of the home. 

Monroe came out later, with the alleged murder weapon and with a shotgun believed to be Perez's. 

Neither weapon has been found. 

Teran drove them back to Monroe's home. 

SunRhodes said he remembered Monroe firing the shotgun from his back porch. Some time later, SunRhodes was taken back to his own home.

On cross-examination, Cheney focused on the lack of planning, to rebut the charge of first-degree murder, with its requirement of premeditation. 

"When was the plan made?" he asked, referencing Fish's claim that Headley was supposed to go into Watt's home with Monroe originally, but was found to be too drunk. 

"I don't know," answered Fish. 

Fish also noted, pursuant to Cheney's questioning, that Watt's uncle, William Watt, along with Tamra Dickson had discovered the bodies on Jan. 5 - one day after the killings. 

Cheney asked Fish if there was other physical evidence recovered at the scene that might tie Monroe to the incident, but LeBrun objected that it was a discovery -- not a probable cause -- question. Roberts sustained LeBrun's objection. 

Fish told Cheney that DCI agents also had interviewed Monroe in December, in Fort Washakie where he was incarcerated for an unrelated matter. 

Monroe had reached out to DCI through his then-attorney, saying he wanted to give an interview. 

Fish recalled Monroe saying that Perez had pointed a gun at him first; that Monroe heard Perez's gun click and then heard his own gun sound. 

LeBrun argued in his closing statement that the evidence against Monroe was strong, by the latter's own admission to "at least one of the murders," and by the testimony of "a literal eyewitness." 

LeBrun argued that the forced entry into the home satisfies the felony murder charge underpinning, that a victim had died during the course of a separate felony offense. 

Cheney rebutted, asking the court not to bind over the felony murder charges, because there was "really no plan" to commit a felony. 

"(With this) big statement to 'take care of business'... I'm not really sure what the intent was." 

Cheney said "The killing may have been self-defense." 

Under Wyoming's stand-your-ground law, a homeowner may shoot an invader exhibiting criminal intent. 

LeBrun countered by citing case law that "In burglary you can develop the intention once you're inside." 

Roberts said the state's argument did convey enough probable cause to advance the case. 

He also set Monroe's bond at $2 million cash-only. 

Roberts had on Dec. 17 denied Monroe bond, then later set it at $1 million cash-only.

But on Wednesday, Roberts said some of the new details he'd learned at the preliminary hearing suggested "extreme danger to the community" should Monroe be released. He doubled the bond.