Patricia Batts is accused of torturing her grandson, and teaching her own children to torture the boy

By Harriet Sokmensuer
May 11, 2020 04:47 PM
James Alex Hurley
| Credit: Gallatin County Sheriff's Office

Prosecutors in Montana are planning to seek the death penalty for a grandmother who allegedly tortured her 12-year-old grandson to death with the help of two of her children.

On Feb. 3, Gallatin County deputies found 12-year-old James Alex Hurley dead in his grandparents' West Yellowstone home. James had multiple wounds and contusions all over his body, prompting deputies to contact homicide detectives.

James had been living with his grandparents and their children — who do not include the boy's mother or father — for two years. But police allege he endured severe abuse.

Shortly after James's death, authorities arrested his grandfather, James Sasser Jr., grandmother, Patricia Batts, and her teenage son — charging them with deliberate homicide — as well as Batts' daughter, Madison Sasser, who is charged with aggravated kidnapping and negligent homicide, according to Gallatin County Jail records.

On Friday, Deputy Gallatin County Attorney Bjorn Boyer filed a notice stating he would seek the death penalty in Batts' case, KBZK, KRTV, and the Bozeman Daily Chronicle report.

Batts is accused of beating James and teaching some of her children to do the same, leading to his death, according to charging documents.

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According to a probable cause affidavit, video footage obtained by police during their investigation showed the family torturing James, WGNTV and KBZK reported in February.

Boyer told KTVH-TV that “systematic torture and beatings” led to James’ death.

At the time of James’ death, he “appeared to be emaciated” while video footage from two years prior showed him as a “healthy and well-fed boy,” the court documents state.

James weighed 103 lbs. and stood 5 feet 3 inches tall, investigators noted in the documents.

The family is accused of withholding food from the boy and forcing him to do exercises like jumping jacks and squats. All of this was allegedly recorded by the family on video.

Another teenager, Gage Roush, 18, a family friend, has also been charged with assault of a minor after investigators found footage of him allegedly hitting James with a wooden paddle.

All co-defendants have pleaded not guilty and remain behind bars on bond. Attorney information was not available Monday.

If you suspect child abuse, call the Childhelp National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-Child or 1-800-422-4453, or go to All calls are toll-free and confidential. The hotline is available 24/7 in more than 170 languages.