12-year-old found dead was tortured by grandparents, uncle, police say

Three relatives arrested for allegedly beating a 12-year-old boy to death in West Yellowstone

On Wednesday, February 12, 2020, the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office arrested James Sasser Jr., Patricia Batts, and a juvenile male (uncle of the victim) for the offense of Deliberate Homicide. The charges are in reference to the death of 12-year-old James Alex Hurley outside of West Yellowstone, Montana, on or about February 3, 2020. The investigation is ongoing and Sheriff Gootkin can only comment on the information covered in the Affidavit of Probable Cause, which is public information.

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BOZEMAN, Mont. — The grandparents of a 12-year-old boy who was beaten to death in West Yellowstone were charged Thursday with deliberate homicide along with the victim’s 14-year-old uncle.

James Sasser Jr., 47, and Patricia Batts, 48, appeared in Gallatin County Justice Court in the Feb. 3 death of James Alex Hurley. Bail was set at $750,000 for Batts and $500,000 for Sasser. They did not enter pleas and they requested public defenders.

Hurley had been living with his grandparents, two uncles and an aunt in West Yellowstone for about two years, court records said.

After his death, investigators found evidence, including videos, that indicated Hurley’s grandparents and his 14-year-old uncle regularly abused him, including beating him with a wooden paddle and locking up food.

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

Batts and the 14-year-old told investigators that Hurley and his uncle had a “bad fight” on Jan. 27. The uncle reported he found Hurley standing over Batts with a knife, court records said.

The 14-year-old also acknowledged kicking Hurley in the head multiple times in the 24 to 36 hours before his death, charging documents said.

The uncle is about 6 feet (1.83 meters) tall and weighs about 300 pounds (136 kilograms) while Hurley was 5 feet, 3 inches (1.6 meters) tall and weighed about 100 pounds (45 kilograms), charging documents said.

Batts said Hurley slept on the floor in the living room and was mumbling and moaning throughout the night before she reported finding him dead the next morning.

Nobody sought medical attention for the victim, Boyer said. The autopsy found he had bruising all over his body and died from trauma to the head.

The 14-year-old was charged with deliberate homicide in youth court Wednesday and his bail was set at $500,000, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. The Associated Press is not using his name because he is a juvenile.

The grandparents were charged under the felony murder law, alleging they committed felony aggravated assault that contributed to the boy’s death, Boyer said.

Boyer said he sought a higher bail for Batts, believing her to be more culpable.

“She’s on a lot of the videos that show the torture to this young boy,” he said. “She’s in the videos seen strangling the boy, seen hitting the boy.”

Attorney Ryan Peabody, who appeared with Batts and Sasser, reserved the right to argue for a reduced bond.

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