Deadly fight plea deal in Anoka County brings outrage from victim's family

It's been nearly two years since a deadly fight between two men in Fridley that left Joseph Skogen dead. On Thursday, the man who killed Skogen accepted a plea deal to assault charges. The victims’ loved ones shared their outrage over the agreement with FOX 9.  

"I went to prison and did 24 months on a third-degree drug charge. So, how does somebody who killed somebody get to do the same or less time," asked Anne Marie Emerson, who shared a son with Skogen. "I think about him every day because I see my kid hurting every day."

During a virtual hearing in Anoka County District Court, 44-year-old Brandon Watson pleaded guilty to a third-degree assault charge just days before he was set to go on trial. Prosecutors dropped a manslaughter count, in exchange for Watson agreeing to a 24-month prison sentence.

The altercation unfolded in a Fridley home on the night of Jan. 30, 2022. Court documents and Watson’s courtroom admission on Thursday, do not reveal much about the fight. It appeared to be largely unwitnessed, with Skogen suffering significant injuries to his face and head.

A woman in the home would only tell authorities that Skogen was a welcomed guest and Watson showed up "uninvited." When the witness stepped out of her bedroom, she spotted a dying Skogen with Watson holding an "unidentified object" in his hand.

Emerson told FOX 9’s Paul Blume she believes Watson was holding a wrench, that the two men knew each other, and the confrontation was apparently over a romantic interest.

"It is hard. You know, it definitely hurts every time there is a new court hearing," said Emerson. "It is like opening the wound all over again."

The medical examiner ultimately determined that Skogen died from a combination of his injuries and some pre-existing medical conditions. The manner of death was ruled a homicide.

"Joe lost his life because of the actions of another human being," said Emerson. "And third-degree assault, it just brings no justice to me."

Watson, who is currently in the Wright County jail on several unrelated charges, is scheduled to be formally sentenced on April 4.

In response to FOX 9 questions about the plea deal, the Anoka County Attorney’s Office provided the following statement:

"On December 12, 2022, the Anoka County Attorney’s Office charged the defendant in this case, Brandon Paul Watson, with one count of felony Assault in the 3rd Degree. The decision not to charge Watson initially with a higher severity level crime was based upon information available to this office at the time.  Our office insisted on a plea to the felony assault charge and a prison sentence within the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines.

"As our office prepared for trial this year, the assigned prosecutors amended the complaint to add an additional count of Manslaughter in the 1st Degree.  This amendment would provide jurors with a fair opportunity at trial to assess whether all the evidence the State had gathered, including information from the medical examiner, could also prove a Manslaughter charge beyond any reasonable doubt.  Prior to filing the amended complaint, all efforts were made to notify the immediate family of the victim. The previously extended offer was kept open for a finite period of time.  Within that time, the Defendant agreed to plead guilty to the 3rd Degree Assault and serve a term in prison consistent with the Minnesota Sentencing Guidelines. The immediate family members who provided input to our office were understanding of this potential resolution.

"Today, the defendant accepted responsibility and pled guilty to the original felony charge in this case.  The Court set the matter for sentencing on April 4, 2024, at 3:00 PM and ordered Anoka County Probation to conduct a pre-sentence investigation.  Out of respect for the process, this office will reserve further comment on this case until after the sentencing hearing."