Gallatin County prosecutors said Friday they will seek the death penalty against a West Yellowstone woman accused of torturing and beating her 12-year-old grandson to death.
Prosecutor Bjorn Boyer filed a notice in Gallatin County District Court stating his intent to seek the death penalty against Patricia Batts if she is convicted in the death of Alex Hurley at their home near Hebgen Lake.
Batts is charged with deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, criminal child endangerment and strangulation of partner or family member, all felonies.
She has been held at the Gallatin County jail on $750,000 bail since February.
Batts has pleaded not guilty to all the charges. Her attorney Ryan Peabody did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
In the filing, Boyer said the state would try to prove that aggravating circumstances and torture surrounded Hurley’s death and kidnapping.
Batts’ husband, James Sasser Jr., and her 14-year-old son, James Sasser III, each face deliberate homicide charges. Madison Sasser, Batts’ daughter, is charged with aggravated kidnapping and negligent homicide. Gage Roush, a family friend, is charged with felony assault on a minor after prosecutors said he was seen on video hitting the boy with a wooden paddle.
Charging documents portrayed Batts as the person who beat and punished Alex and taught her children to do the same. Sasser Jr. told detectives he thought Batts’ punishments were excessive and that he planned to divorce Batts and raise the kids alone, court documents say.
In February, deputies found several videos on Batts’ and Sasser III’s phones showing the family torturing Alex at their home on Buffalo Drive, according to charging documents.
Batts admitted forcing Alex to do “wall sits,” jumping jacks or had him stand in front of fans half-naked while being squirted with water after she started homeschooling him in September, court documents say. She told detectives that Alex drove her “nuts.”
Batts allowed Sasser III to punish Alex when she wasn’t around, but said she was unaware of what he was doing, court documents say. She said she learned that Sasser III “popped” Alex hard with the paddle, but claimed she told the 14-year-old that wasn’t OK.
Batts claimed she had no idea how Alex died and told detectives that she did not feel responsible for his death, court documents say.
Police said in charging documents that a neighbor reported hearing screaming and seeing Alex run “as fast as he could” out of the house in December. The neighbor said Madison Sasser and Batts caught Alex and held him. Sasser III then dragged Alex back to the house and punched him in the face, court documents say.
Sasser Jr. is also charged with felony criminal child endangerment.
All codefendants in the case have each pleaded not guilty to the charges. Roush, Sasser Jr. and Madison Sasser are being held at the Gallatin County jail. Sasser III, the 14-year-old, is being held at the Yellowstone Youth Services Center in Billings.
The last death penalty carried out in Montana was in 2006, according to the nonprofit death penalty information center. David Dawson was executed by injection that year at the Montana State Prison for killing three people.
William Jay Gollehon and Ronald Allen Smith are serving death sentences at the Montana State Prison, according to the Department of Corrections. Gollehon and Smith each have been convicted of deliberate homicide and kidnapping.