NewsCrime and Courts


Guilty plea in the murder of 12-year old West Yellowstone boy

FAMILY PHOTO (Picture of 12-year old James Alex Hurley)
Investigators: videos of James Alex Hurley, 12, being tortured by members of his extended family before his death
Madison Sasser
Gage Roush of West Yellowstone
Posted at 9:47 AM, Aug 17, 2021
and last updated 2021-08-17 12:06:27-04

BOZEMAN — Last week, the case of 12-year-old James Alexander Hurley, who was found dead in his grandparents’ home in early 2020, returned to court in the form of another guilty plea.

Guilty plea in the murder of 12-year old West Yellowstone boy

Now, only one of five people arrested connected to the West Yellowstone boy’s death - his grandmother - remains to be adjudicated.

Last week, James Sasser Jr., the boy’s grandfather, pleaded guilty to the charge of deliberate homicide by association and two others: tampering with a witness and criminal endangerment, with prosecutors recommending a combined 120 years in prison at his November sentencing.

All that remains to be adjudicated now: Patricia Batts.

The weeks following February 3, 2020, were spent by many at the Gallatin County Law & Justice Center, as the pile of court documents has only grown, all with graphic details regarding the death of James.

Grandfather James Sasser Jr., 14-year-old uncle James Sasser III, 18-year-old aunt Madison Sasser and Sasser III’s friend, Gage Roush, have either been sentenced or, in Sasser Junior’s case, are awaiting sentencing.

Patricia Batts, Hurley’s grandmother, remains, facing counts of deliberate homicide and more.

Batts faces the possibility of the death penalty, which, if carried out, would be the fourth in the state of Montana since the Gregg vs. Georgia decision in 1976.

Looking back at what former Gallatin County Sheriff Brian Gootkin called one of the most disturbing cases of his career, court documents show that detectives found Hurley on the floor of the home, with signs that someone used vinegar to clean up large amounts of blood nearby.

Then, detectives say they found videos involving Batts, Sasser III, Sasser Jr., and in fewer instances Gage Roush during Hurley’s two-year stay with them.

Investigators say video recordings show Hurley’s family beating him with makeshift objects, locking food away from him, and strangling him.

James Alexander Hurley

As of now, Batts’ trial is set for May 2022.

With Sasser Junior’s guilty plea being the most recent development in the case, prosecutors say his sentencing is the next step. It is scheduled for 9 a.m. on Tuesday, November 9.

As for Batts, prosecutors note that Montana is one of 24 states that allow the death penalty - with the last execution in the state dating back to 2006.