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Montana woman pleads guilty to killing grandson; plea deal calls for life sentence

By AP | May 27, 2023

Patricia Batts leaves the courtroom at the Law and Justice Center after a change of plea hearing on Friday, May 26, 2023, in Bozeman, Mont. Batts pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in the 2020 death of her 12-year-old grandson James “Alex” Hurley. (Samuel Wilson/Bozeman Daily Chronicle via AP)

Montana woman pleads guilty to killing grandson; plea deal calls for life sentence

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A Montana woman charged with torturing and killing her 12-year-old grandson in early 2020 has pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in an agreement that calls for her to spend the rest of her life in prison. Patricia Batts was charged in the death of James “Alex” Hurley at her house in West Yellowstone. The boy had been living with Batts and her husband following the death of the boy’s father, who was Batts’ son. Gallatin County prosecutors alleged Alex was beaten and tortured by family members and denied food. Investigators found cellphone videos of the family torturing the boy. Batts entered her plea on Friday and her sentencing is set for July 11 in Bozeman.

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A Montana woman charged with torturing and killing her 12-year-old grandson more than three years ago pleaded guilty Friday to deliberate homicide and two other felonies in an agreement with the state that calls for her to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Patricia Batts was charged in the death of James “Alex” Hurley in February 2020 in West Yellowstone. Her trial had been scheduled to start in July, but she will now be sentenced on July 11.

Under the agreement, she also pleaded guilty to felony criminal child endangerment for failing to get him medical help after he was fatally injured and witness tampering by trying to get family members to provide false statements to investigators, the Department of Justice said.

“This was a very tragic death of a blameless child. These cases are not easy, and our hard-working prosecutors are one step closer to achieving justice for Alex’s family,” Attorney General Knudsen said in a statement. “I look forward to the sentencing and expect the judge will impose the life sentence we requested in the plea deal.”

Alex had been living with Batts and her husband, James Sasser Jr., following the death of his father, who was Batts’ son. An autopsy found Alex died of blunt force trauma to the back of his head. He also had bruises and wounds all over his body, court records said.

Gallatin County prosecutors alleged Alex was beaten and denied food. Investigators found videos of the boy being tortured and punished on cellphones seized from the family members.

Sasser Jr. was sentenced in March 2022 to 100 years in prison for his role in Alex’s death. He pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide, child endangerment and tampering with a witness. At sentencing, he acknowledged he failed to protect Alex.

Two children belonging to Sasser and Batts were also charged in the case along with a family friend.

Their 14-year-old son was charged in youth court and acknowledged causing the injuries that likely led to Alex’s death. Youth Court Judge John Brown sentenced him to juvenile detention until he reaches age 18, followed by seven years on probation. Alex’s aunt was sentenced to probation.

Gallatin County prosecutors initially sought the death penalty against Batts, accusing her of systematically torturing and killing Alex. A new county attorney elected in 2022 took that sentencing option off the table after asking the state Attorney General’s Prosecution Services Bureau for its recommendation.

“It will make this move more swiftly and secure a sentence where Ms. Batts will never see the outside of a prison cell again,” County Attorney Cromwell said in January.

Batts has been jailed since her arrest on Feb. 12, 2020.