A son shot his father and left his body in a South Dakota wetland; his hometown friend helped
On an August night in 2007, two 19-year-olds, including his own son, killed 47-year-old Brian Brody Sr. in his trailer. Brody had a history of abuse toward his family, but his death roiled the South Dakota college town -- the first homicide in over a decade.
BROOKINGS, S.D. — On an August night in 2007, two 19-year-old men chose a remote and wooded state park pocketed by lakes northwest of Brookings to deposit a body. It wasn't the first time they'd worked together. But it would be their last.
Just a few falls earlier, Brandon Brody and Jon Rogness had run cross country together for Deubrook Area High School, finishing close to each other in the 2004 state meet. They'd remained friends after high school.
But in the hours after they shot Brody's previously estranged father, Brian Sr., nearly a dozen times in a trailer Brandon recently shared with him, with a rifle purchased earlier that evening from Wal-Mart, there would be no running.
Within hours of the killing, Brandon confessed to his older brother, Brian Jr., that he'd shot their father Brian Sr.. His brother called police, and that morning, law enforcement stopped a car and apprehended Rogness and Brandon, who still had blood on his jeans.
They wouldn't admit to the killing at first. They wouldn't tell investigators where they'd deposited the remains of Brian Sr., a violent man who'd been absent from Brandon's youth before returning from California earlier that year. Their own stories of what happened -- who shot whom and why -- would conflict.
But the evidence was in the trailer. Patches of blood. Remnants of Brian Sr.'s brains on a vent. A saw on the floor, where the young men tried cutting away incriminating carpet.
By daylight on Friday, Aug. 10, Brandon and Rogness were in Brookings County Jail with a $1 million bond each. An afternoon later, police located the charred remains of a human near the water at Oakwood Lakes State Park , a quiet nature preserve popular with birdwatchers and prairie preservationists about 30 minutes northwest of Brookings. An autopsy later confirmed the remains as Brian Sr.
His murder cemented the demise of an attempt to move back home and restart a life he'd avoided for over a decade.
Just months earlier, Brian Sr. had moved back to the Brookings area from California and bought a trailer he soon made home with his son, Brandon. Brian Sr. had a violent past and lived apart from his ex-wife, Tammy, and two sons for years. But the two had an easy truce at first.
Brian Sr. bought Brandon a new wallet, say police reports. Furnished his room. Took care of him in ways he hadn't. But the two butted heads quickly.
Their first physical encounter came a month after living together, says interviews filed by Brookings County law enforcement. Before eventually finding work at an auto parts store, Brian Sr. couldn't find a job and could grow sullen, flipping his knife in and out while he walked around the house. His sons had seen their dad beat up Tammy, who in August of 2007 after news of the killing had broken, told reporters her ex was "evil." Brandon's brother, Brian Jr., also told the Argus Leader that his father was "one of the most vicious men" he knew.
According to police affidavits, both Brian Sr. and his son, Brandon, were featherweights -- 120 pounds or so and under 6 feet tall. Brandon, according to an interview between investigators and his older brother, could be "cocky" and insolent toward his dad, fighting over everything from Brandon chewing with his mouth open or politics.
By the summer of 2007, tensions in the trailer were high. What caused the fight that night, though, isn't exactly clear from the court documents reviewed by Forum News Service. Brian Sr. had previously sparred with Rogness overheated political topics. Weeks earlier, Brian Sr. had tackled his younger son in the trailer. Brandon threatened to kill him in retaliation.
But friends who heard him make these threats doubted he was serious.
In hindsight, how two lives could spiral out of control only a year after college also remains an unknown.
Rogness, in a blog post in 2012, wrote that he'd been in and out of juvenile detention and treatment facilities with a drinking problem during his high school years. He sought thrills while drinking, speeding his truck down gravel roads, and he had fathered a child with his teenage girlfriend. The child's first steps, wrote Rogness, came while he watched from behind plexiglass in jail.
Brody's descent is more of a mystery.
Brandon had been the "good" son, Brian Jr., said while growing up in Astoria. He'd gotten good grades and joined the National Guard after high school. While a student at South Dakota State, he'd left the dormitories to live with his dad. And he'd seemingly melded with life in the college town.
Fearing he'd be deployed to Iraq, Brandon left the National Guard and picked up a job at Wal-Mart that summer. He also made a statewide newspaper story about eating 34 burgers at Nick's Hamburgers -- setting a record the owner said would stand "for a while."
But his own future would collide the night he and Rogness ended a father's life.
Brandon "probably shouldn't have been left alone with my dad," Brian Jr., told the Argus. "I don't think my brother's a cold-blooded killer. But then I don't know exactly what happened that night, either."
On that Thursday evening in August, 47-year-old Brian Sr. came home to his trailer at Normandy Village on the southwest side of town and Brandon and Rogness both shot him with a rifle 11 times. Authorities later said Rogness fired first. To dispose of the body, they drove up to Oakwood Lakes State Park. The men also then burned the body, which Lt. Jeff Miller of the Brookings Police Department told media was found "in or near the water."
The murder shocked Brookings, a college town in farm country on the state's eastern side. The last homicide came a dozen years earlier, when a man stabbed his girlfriend. While a grand jury approved indicting the young men for first-degree murder -- a crime that carried the death penalty -- Brookings County attorney Clyde Calhoun said that fall that he would not seek the death penalty.
After the arrests were announced, Rogness also pled guilty to an unrelated charge of breaking into the softball complex in Brookings -- charges that would later amplify his prison time. By that Christmas, Calhoun said Rogness and Brody could face trial together. Their attorneys asked for a change of venue, citing "rumors" circulating around town.
But by that spring, both had reached a plea deal with prosecutors. Rogness pleaded guilty but mentally ill to manslaughter in the first-degree charges. Then, Brody also pled guilty to aiding/abetting first-degree manslaughter. That summer, both were sentenced to decades in prison after pleading guilty to first-degree manslaughter.
Since then, Oakwood Lakes State Park, which boasts an early settler's log cabin from 1869, has remained a quiet place for nature lovers and outdoor recreationists. But its isolated quality has also attracted suspicious activity. In 2015, a man was found dead floating in the lake. Earlier this summer, a woman was abducted at the state park. She later fought off her abductor and escaped in Sioux Falls.