Prosecutors are asking a judge to approve trying a 14-year-old West Yellowstone boy as an adult for torturing and beating his 12-year-old nephew to death.
James Sasser III, 14, is charged with felony deliberate homicide for the death of 12-year-old James Alex Hurley, who went by Alex. The charges were filed in Gallatin County District Court on Tuesday.
The filing asks a judge to set a hearing within 30 days on whether to try Sasser III as an adult. It also reveals new details about the days leading up to Alex’s death, including that the boy was duct-taped to his relatives to keep him from running away at night.
Hurley’s grandparents, James Sasser Jr., 47, and Patricia Batts, 48, are each charged with felony deliberate homicide stemming from the incident. Gage Roush, 18, is also charged with felony assault on a minor after prosecutors said he was seen in a video beating the boy with a wooden paddle.
Bail was set at $500,000 for Sasser Jr. and Sasser III, and $750,000 for Batts. Roush’s bail was set at $50,000.
Earlier this month, deputies found suspicious circumstances surrounding Alex’s death at his home on Buffalo Drive near Hebgen Lake and began investigating, A doctor who performed Alex’s autopsy initially ruled he died from a blow to the back of the head.
After an investigation, deputies found videos of family members and Roush torturing Alex at the home, where Alex’s 18-year-old aunt and 6-year-old uncle also live, court documents say.
Sasser III told detectives that he would tackle and beat up Alex for standing over Batts with a knife while she slept. In a later interview, police said in charging documents, Sasser III admitted he lied about Alex standing over Batts with a knife.
The 14-year-old boy confirmed that he and Batts beat Alex with a wooden paddle when Alex did not want to do jumping jacks or squat against the wall, court documents say. Sasser III told detectives that Alex was always misbehaving and “messed up” his family, but said he only saw Alex misbehave on a few occasions and that Batts told him about another instance.
Sasser III told detectives that Alex had a room in the house that was eventually turned into a game room, and that Alex slept in the living room after that. Sasser III said the family wanted to “get rid of” Alex or possibly send him to a hospital, court documents say.
The uncle said he and Batts took turns being duct-taped to Alex to keep him from running away at night, police said. They put saran wrap between the duct-tape and their arms, but Sasser III said they put the duct-tape directly on Alex’s skin, court documents say.
Sasser III told detectives that early in the morning of Feb. 1, Alex tried to escape from “behind the couch,” and that Batts lost her temper, court documents say. He and Alex wrestled a bit, and Sasser III said he hit Alex three or four times and made him cry.
He said Alex “started acting weird” after the “pretty bad fight,” but Batts told him it was likely because Alex had consumed alcohol, court documents say.
On Super Bowl Sunday, the day before Alex was found dead, Sasser III said he hit Alex with the wooden paddle once while watching the game. Sasser III said the paddle broke, but denied that it broke because of the hit.
The 18-year-old aunt told detectives that a fight started either Saturday night or early Sunday morning when Sasser III touched a heater while he and Alex were being duct-taped together. Sasser III became angry, she said, and kicked or punched Alex approximately five times in the head while he was on the ground in a fetal position.
She said Sasser III also hit Alex’s head into the wall so hard it dented it, and that Alex’s grandparents were around when that happened. The aunt said Alex had memory loss, was disoriented — similar to how she acted after a car accident — and that she and Sasser Jr. conducted concussion tests on Alex.
After the incident, the aunt told detectives, she and Sasser Jr. messaged each other that they wanted to leave the house with the 6-year-old boy. The aunt said Alex’s grandfather was concerned that his 6-year-old son would be taken away if anyone found out how the family treated Alex, court documents say.
Police said in charging documents that the aunt believes Sasser III killed Alex.