A Montana man has pleaded guilty to felony charges related to the torture and murder of his grandson.
On Friday, James Sasser Jr. admitted to felony deliberate homicide, tampering with a witness, and criminal child endangerment, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle. Sasser Jr. is one of five people accused of having a part in the murder of 12-year-old James “Alex” Hurley.
“There’s a handful of cases that stick with you, that sort of haunts you,” former Gallatin Sheriff Brian Gootkin told KRTV News. “This is one of those that I’ll probably never forget.”
Alex, who was originally from Cleveland, Texas, lived with his paternal grandparents in Montana, according to Houston’s ABC 13 News. The boy moved to Montana to be with his father and stayed with his paternal grandparents upon the father’s 2018 death.
Alex’s father, Tommy Tate, died from infection after he was rendered a paraplegic from an ATV accident, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
James Hurley Photo: Gallatin County Sheriff’s Office
Alex was found dead two years later on Feb. 3, 2020, according to KULR News. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head.
Investigators allegedly found cell phone videos that showed beatings of the boy carried out by by Sasser Jr, his wife, Patricia Batts, and their then 14-year-old son.
Alex was allegedly beaten regularly with a wooden paddle, according to KULR. He was also made to stand and sit in strenuous positions for prolonged periods of time.
The boy was also deprived of food, according to ABC 13.
Batts, Alex’s grandmother, faces the death penalty if convicted on charges of deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, criminal child endangerment, and strangulation of a partner or family member.
The 14-year-old son, Hurley’s paternal uncle, was charged as a juvenile and pleaded guilty to felony deliberate homicide, according to the Chronicle. He was sentenced to a detention center until the age of 18.
Also charged was Hurley’s then 17-year-old paternal aunt, who was also tried as a juvenile and pleaded guilty to felony aggravated kidnapping, according to the Chronicle. She was sentenced to a detention center until age 21.
Both the teenage uncle and aunt will be on probation until the age of 25.
A fifth person, an 18-year-old not related to the victim, pleaded guilty to assault on a minor and received a sentence of five years deferred upon court-mandated counseling, according to the Chronicle. He did not live in the home with the family.
Relatives allegedly duct-taped Alex to themselves in an attempt to keep the boy from running away, according to KULR. On the night of his death, Alex was duct-taped to his 14-year-old uncle.
“I woke up and the duct tape was almost off,” said the 14-year-old boy in a written statement obtained by KULR. “I re-taped it with one little line of tape.
After that, Alex moved and my arm touched the heater. I got up and started punching him. I pushed him and he fell into the wall. His head crashed into the wall and I punched him and pushed him over.
“I caused him serious bodily injury and I believe that led to Alex’s death,” the teen continued. “Alex died sometime that next night.”
When entering his guilty plea with the courts, Sasser Jr. told the judge that Hurley’s death was “the result of aggravated assault” by his 14-year-old son.
“That’s the strongest proof of your guilt known to the criminal law, sir,” said Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown, according to the Chronicle.
Alexs’ mother, Alicia Davis, was in Texas during the two years of abuse but said she tried to get the boy home, according to ABC 13.
“Alex was an All-American boy, a true Texan,” Davis wrote in a statement to ABC 13. “He loved life and helping others.”
David encouraged others to do something if they suspect child abuse.
“Please talk to your kids or the children in your life that are dear to your heart about child abuse,” stated David. “Our kids see and hear things we adults don’t. We as a nation need to stop turning a blind eye when it comes to any child’s well-being.”
Sasser Jr.’s sentencing is scheduled for Tuesday, Nov. 9, 2021.