Patricia Batts

Patricia Batts enters Gallatin County District Court in March 2020.

Attorneys for a West Yellowstone woman facing the death penalty on charges related to the death of her grandson plan to challenge the constitutionality of capital punishment in coming months.

Patricia Batts appeared with defense attorneys Craig Shannon and Greg Jackson before Gallatin County District Court Judge John Brown on Friday for a status conference regarding legal proceedings leading up to a trial scheduled to begin in 2022.

Batts is charged with deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, criminal child endangerment and strangulation of partner or family member, all felonies, related to the death of her 12-year-old grandson, James Alex Hurley.

Defense attorneys plan to file motions by the end of October challenging the constitutionality of the death penalty in the case, although lawyers did not go into detail on Friday about their arguments.

Montana is one of 24 states that allow capital punishment — 23 states have abolished the death penalty and three others have a governor imposed moratorium on death as punishment, according to the Death Penalty Information Center. The last execution in Montana happened in 2006 and two people are now on death row in the state, according to DPIC.

Defense attorneys also shared with prosecutor Bjorn Boyer copies of four motions challenging law enforcement searches related to their client.

Law enforcement say investigators found videos on a cell phone belonging to Patricia Batts and her teenage son, James Sasser III, of the family torturing Hurley.

The lawyers also discussed Batts’ contact with Sasser III, which isn’t allowed in the criminal case related to Hurley’s death but is allowed in a separate, noncriminal matter related to her fitness as a parent.

Batts’ contact with Sasser III in the noncriminal matter has been in a courtroom, virtual and is allowed “in the sprit of reunifying the family,” Jackson told Brown at Friday’s status conference.

Boyer argued that Batts not be allowed to speak with her son — who has pleaded guilty to felony deliberate homicide in connection to Hurley’s death and is in the custody of the Montana Department of Corrections — or any other witness, as ordered by the court in the criminal case against her.

“Any contact would be a violation,” Boyer said to Brown. “The order is clear there is no contact (allowed).”

Brown suggested defense attorneys seek bail modification to allow Batts to contact Sasser III, which would then offer prosecutors an opportunity to respond in writing.

Attorneys also agreed to move the start date for Batts trial from May 31, 2022, to June 1, 2022. Defense attorneys plan to file 14 other motions, including challenges to the constitutionality of capital punishment in the case, before the trail is scheduled to start.

Brown cautioned defense attorneys that the trial start date may not be moved to accommodate more time to file motions.

“Never say never, but we’re going to trial June 1,” Brown said.

Prosecutors allege Batts beat and punished her grandson and taught her children to do the same. Hurley was found dead in February 2020.

James Sasser Jr., Batts husband, is also charged with deliberate homicide related to Hurley’s death.{/div}

Bret Hauff is the Chronicle’s city editor. He can be reached at bhauff@dailychronicle.com or {span}406-582-2647.{/span}

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