Woman sentenced to life for torture and murder of grandson

A Montana resident, Patricia Batts, 51, has been sentenced to life imprisonment for the brutal torture and murder of her 12-year-old grandson, James “Alex” Hurley. Batts pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide in May, following a plea deal that saw prosecutors abandon their pursuit of the death penalty. The sentencing took place on Tuesday in a District Court in Bozeman.

The case, described as “horrific” and “unnecessary” by District Judge John C. Brown, has shocked the community. Batts was also found guilty of felony criminal child endangerment and witness tampering. She failed to seek medical attention for Alex after he sustained fatal injuries and attempted to coerce family members into providing false statements to investigators. For these crimes, Batts received additional 10-year sentences.

Alex had been living with Batts and her husband, James Sasser Jr., following the death of his father, Batts’ son. The autopsy report revealed that Alex died from blunt force trauma to the back of his head, and his body bore numerous bruises and wounds.

Prosecutors from Gallatin County claimed that Alex was routinely beaten and starved. Investigators discovered disturbing videos on family members’ cellphones, showing the boy being tortured and punished. Judge Brown described the video evidence as the most “horrific” he had ever witnessed during his tenure.

Batts was accused of creating an environment that facilitated Alex’s abuse. Sasser, her husband, was sentenced in March 2022 to 100 years in prison for his involvement in Alex’s death. He pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide, child endangerment, and witness tampering. During his sentencing, Sasser admitted that he failed to protect Alex.

Two of Sasser and Batts’ children were also implicated in the case. Their 14-year-old son, charged in youth court, admitted to causing the injuries that likely resulted in Alex’s death. He was sentenced to juvenile detention until he turns 18, followed by seven years of probation. The couple’s daughter was also sentenced to probation for her involvement in the case. Batts has been in custody since her arrest, which occurred a week after Alex’s death.