Montana Family Members Behind Bars After ‘Systemic Torture’ Led To Boy’s Death, Prosecutors Say

Police allegedly found videos of 12-year-old James Alex Hurley being abused.

May 14, 2020

James Alex Hurley, left, and grandmother Patricia Batts and grandfather James Sasser Jr [Images taken from NBC Montana]

James Alex Hurley, left, and grandmother Patricia Batts and grandfather James Sasser Jr [Images taken from NBC Montana]

By: Aaron Rasmussen

A Montana grandmother accused of torturing and beating her young grandson to death with her family’s help could face the death penalty if convicted, prosecutors say.

In 2018, Patricia Batts and James Sasser Jr. began raising their 12-year-old grandson, James Alex Hurley, after his father died. The couple are also parents to a daughter and two sons — the child’s aunt and uncles — Madison Sasser, 18, James Sasser III, 14, and a 6-year-old boy.

According to a criminal complaint obtained by CNN, the grandparents both told detectives that on Feb. 2, Hurley and his teenage uncle, Sasser III, got into a fight at the family’s home in West Yellowstone. Batts said she discovered her grandson dead in the living room early the next day.

Deputies who responded to the scene noted multiple contusions and wounds to Hurley’s body. A preliminary autopsy report revealed the child likely died from blunt-force trauma to the back of the head, and police arrested his grandparents and young uncle.

According to charging documents, Batts allegedly often used excessive force to punish her grandson and taught her children to do the same, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

Detectives searched cell phones belonging to the victim’s relatives and reportedly discovered multiple disturbing videos, according to a probable cause affidavit obtained by Butte’s KBZK-TV.

“[Batts] is on a lot of the videos that show the torture to this young boy,” Gallatin County Deputy Attorney Bjorn Boyer told Helena’s KTVH-TV after the grandma’s arrest. “She’s in the videos seen strangling the boy.”

In one video found on Sasser III’s phone, according to court documents, Hurley is forced to stand in front of a fan in only his underwear while Batts allegedly is heard telling the boy, “Oh, you’re not even a human, you’re some kind of thing.”

Another video allegedly shows the suspects spraying Hurley’s face with a substance that appears to burn and choke him, CNN reported.

“I believe the systematic torture and beatings are perpetrated on the victim in this case that led to his death,” Boyer said.

During the investigation, Hurley’s grandparents and teenage uncle allegedly complained to detectives that after Hurley’s dad died, the child exhibited “increasingly problematic” and “erratic” actions, which they alleged included drinking alcohol, stealing, self-harming and menacing behavior, according to KBZK-TV.

Despite the family’s claims, however, a detective reportedly was unable to find any record anyone had ever contacted police or attempted to get Hurley medical or psychiatric help.

Patricia Batts is charged with deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, criminal child endangerment and strangulation of partner or family member. Her husband, James Sasser Jr., faces charges of deliberate homicide and felony criminal child endangerment.

The couple’s son, James Sasser III, is charged with deliberate homicide, and their daughter, Madison Sasser, faces charges of aggravated kidnapping and negligent homicide.

Police have also charged 18-year-old Gage Roush, who is reportedly a family friend, with felony assault on a minor after a video surfaced that allegedly shows him beating Hurley with a wooden paddle, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

All co-defendants in the case are currently being held on bond and have pleaded not guilty to the charges filed against them.

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