James Alex Hurley

‘Go and die in the woods’: Teen aunt convicted in death of tortured boy agrees to testify against her abusive parents: DA

A teenager who participated in the torture of a young boy who died from abuse has agreed to testify against her own parents.

As CrimeOnline previously reported, authorities found James Hurley, 12, dead on February 3, 2020, at his home in West Yellowstone, Montana. Authorities said he was beaten and left to die on the living room floor.

Responding officers found numerous wounds and contusions on the boy’s body.

Hurley’s aunt, 19-year-old Madison Sasser, has been convicted of felony aggravated kidnapping in connection with the case. She took a plea deal, approved by the prosecution, which will drop homicide charges against her in return for testifying against her parents.

Sasser’s parents and Hurley’s grandparents, James Sasser Jr., 47, and Patricia Batts, 48, have been charged with deliberate homicide and criminal child endangerment. Court documents described a disturbing scene inside the suspects’ West Yellowstone home.

As part of the ongoing alleged abuse before Hurley died, Batts allegedly made the boy sit in front of fans half-naked while she sprayed him with water. Hurley was also forced to perform jumping jacks and so-called “wall sits.”

“That’s what they do with cats, right?” Batts is quoted as saying, according to the court filings. Batts is also heard on the video telling James that his mother is a “drunk” who hates him.

When questioned by investigators, Batts claimed that Hurley “drove her nuts.” She allegedly added that the boy’s behavior became “increasingly problematic” after his father passed.

Hurley’s father, Tommy Tate, died in 2018. Hurley, who was living with his dad, was then sent to live with his grandparents. The victim’s mother was living in Texas at the time.

James Hurley/Handout

In other videos, Batts is allegedly seen strangling Hurley and holding him against a wall. One video apparently showed Batts twisting one of the boy’s arms behind his back.

“Shut your f***ing mouth or I’ll break this son of a b**** off of you,” Batts allegedly said.

Hurley’s teenage uncle, James Sasser III, 15, was seen on video striking Hurley with a paddle.

Sasser III later admitted to kicking his nephew in the head 24 to 36 hours before his death. He took a plea deal last year on a homicide charge and was sentenced to juvenile jail until 18. Afterward, he’ll be placed on adult probation.

Madison Sasser, who helped hold James down while he was being abused, told a boyfriend that her nephew was akin to “a piece of (crap) off of my f***ing shoe” and wanted him to “go and die in the woods.”

Authorities have video evidence showing Sasser III’s friend, Gage Roush, 18, abusing James.

Sasser III and other family members alleged that Hurley would continuously harm himself and scratch himself, and not allow the wounds to heal before he began picking at them. They also said they witnessed the boy become visibly drunk and steal items.

James Alex Hurley – Complai… by Leigh Egan

The family claimed that Hurley rammed his head into an entertainment center, causing a deep gash. They said they had to take turns staying up at night to watch over Hurley because he was allegedly suicidal.

Sasser III said he woke up on January 27, 2020, to find James standing over Batts with a knife. Sasser III admitted that he subsequently “beat the boy up pretty good.”

On February 2, 2020, Sasser III and James got into another physical altercation. Madison Sasser would later text a friend and claim “she thought her brother killed” James.

The grandmother told investigators she allowed her kids to punish Hurley when she wasn’t around, but that she did not know what kind of punishments were being inflicted. She claimed to have told her son that striking Hurley with a paddle was not OK – after it happened.

*Previous video coverage*

Detectives noted that the injuries found on the victim did not match self-inflicted wounds. They noticed a large gash on the back of the boy’s head that couldn’t have happened from him running into an entertainment center. Authorities said the injury looked as if someone struck Hurley with an object.

Batts’ husband reportedly said in an interview with police that he believed the punishments were too much and that he was trying to divorce his wife and move out of the home. He claimed that he wanted to raise the children without her.

An autopsy determined that Hurley died from trauma to the back of his head. Batts told investigators that Hurley slept on the living room floor and was moaning and mumbling before she found him dead the next morning.

Authorities alleged that nobody in the home sought medical attention for Hurley before his death.

Madison Sasser [Police Handout]
Madison Sasser’s lawyer, Elisabeth Montoya, told the court that her client grew up in an abusive household, where the children lived in fear of their parents.

Montoya added that Madison Sasser lived with “a family that resorted to and normalized violence, torture, intimidation, and fear in their kids.”

“Alex was the enemy. And Madison’s parents were the generals. And the other kids in the household … were soldiers,” Montoya said, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.

“Madison will live every day with the wounds that her family caused to her, her siblings, and, ultimately and most severely, to Alex.”

Madison Sasser will be placed on youth probation with the Montana Department of Corrections until she turns 21. Afterward, she’ll be placed on adult probation until she turns 25. The sentencing, however, rides on her testimony against her parents.

Batts, who pleaded not guilty, will stand trial starting in May 2021. James Sasser Jr. will face trial starting September 20, 2021.

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[Feature Photo: James Hurley/Handout]