New documents have been filed in Gallatin County District Court that divulge new details about the torture and death of a West Yellowstone boy in February.
Twelve-year-old James Alex Hurley’s grandparents — James Sasser Jr., 47, and Patricia Batts, 48 — have been charged with felony deliberate homicide and have revealed new details about how James was treated, with Batts telling investigators her own children learned to beat and torture James by watching her, according to court documents filed Thursday.
James Hurley’s uncle, 14-year-old James Sasser III, is charged with felony deliberate homicide and pleaded not guilty to the charge on Thursday in Gallatin County District Court. He’s represented by attorney Annie DeWolf.
Gage Roush, 18, is charged with felony assault on a minor after prosecutors found video evidence indicating Roush, Sasser Jr., Batts and Sasser III regularly abused him.
Sasser Jr. is being held on a $500,000 bond, while Batts is being held on $750,000. Roush’s bail was set at $50,000. Roush, Batts and Sasser Jr. are being held in Gallatin County jail while Sasser III is being held at the Yellowstone Youth Services Center in Billings.
New charging documents were filed in District Court after Sasser III’s hearing Thursday. In February, Gallatin deputies found suspicious circumstances surrounding James’ death at his home on Buffalo Drive in West Yellowstone.
Sasser Jr., Batts, Sasser III, James’ 18-year-old aunt and James’ six-year-old uncle all lived in the same household, according to documents.
New details include allegations that Batts forced James to sit in front of fans half naked while she squirted him with water.
Batts added, “that’s what they do with cats, right?”
Batts said she pulled James out of school in September to home-school him after he got in trouble for groping a girl. However, she struggled and would make James do jumping jacks and “wall sits” if she caught him not doing his school work.
Investigators interviewed West Yellowstone school superintendent Kevin Flanagan who stated he denied the accusation that James had groped another student and was not aware of any issues that would cause Batts to remove James from school.
She told detectives that James “drove her nuts” and that his behavior worsened over the last few months but couldn’t explain how.
Batts admitted that she allowed Sasser III to punish James when she wasn’t present, but was unaware of the kind of punishments he was doing. She learned that Sasser III “popped” James hard with a paddle, but claimed she told Sasser III that wasn’t OK.
James’ aunt messaged her boyfriend that James was like “a piece of (crap) off of my f---ing shoe” and that she wanted James to “go and die in the woods,” according to documents.
A detective asked Batts where Sasser III and the aunt learned to discipline James.
Batts replied, “I guess me.”
Sasser Jr., James' grandfather, admitted that he verbally abused James, and investigators asked Sasser Jr. if he thought Batts’ punishments on the boy were excessive. He said he did, and stated that he was trying to move out of the house and divorce Batts. He said he wanted to raise the kids without her.
Both Sasser Jr. and Batts made video recordings of James so that they could use them as evidence when they took him to “get help” at a hospital. Batts said James needed mental help, documents state.
Batts told investigators that James was living with them because his biological father, Tommy Tate, died two years ago after an ATV accident left Tate paralyzed from the waist down. Batts said that Tate died from infections resulting from being paraplegic.
Sasser Jr. said that money sent from Tate’s social security benefits to James were used for bills.
Batts said that James would get out at night, and recalled an incident where James had escaped from the house to run away. Batts said he “helped” her fall because he was pushing her when she caught up to him, according to documents.
In December, a neighbor heard screaming and saw James running out of the house on Buffalo Drive and down the road "as fast as he could."
The aunt, Sasser III and Batts ran after James. The neighbor said that neither the aunt nor Batts stopped Sasser III from periodically punching James in the face after he caught up to him in the street and dragged him back to the house.
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