The grandparents and uncle arrested Wednesday for the death of a 12-year-old boy near West Yellowstone have been accused of beating and torturing him before killing him.
James Danny Sasser Jr., 47; Patricia Lynn Batts, 48; and James Danny Sasser III, 14, are charged with felony deliberate homicide for the death of 12-year-old James Alex Hurley.
Judge Rick West set bail at $500,000 for Sasser Jr. and $750,000 for Batts in Gallatin County Justice Court and were represented by attorney Ryan Peabody. They remained in the Gallatin County Detention Center Thursday evening.
Sasser III, Hurley's uncle, was seen by Judge John Brown in Gallatin County District Court on Wednesday and is being held at the Yellowstone Youth Services Center in Billings on a $500,000 bail. Prosecutor Bjorn Boyer intends to try him as an adult; a judge will have to rule on that.
On Feb. 3, a Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputy responded to Buffalo Drive in West Yellowstone, Montana, for a reported unattended death of a 12-year-old. The deputy found that the circumstances surrounding the death appeared to be suspicious and asked for help from the sheriff’s detective division for the investigation.
James had multiple wounds and contusions all over his body, detectives saw. A large gash on the back of the boy's head and other injuries were not consistent with self-inflicted injuries, according to court documents.
An autopsy of the body showed James died from blunt force trauma to the back of the head and is waiting on a toxicology report for a final opinion.
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James lived with his grandparents, Sasser Jr. and Batts, for the past two years after being sent by his mother to live with his father. James' father died two years ago, according to documents. James' mother had tried to contact James by phone several times, but she was blocked by Batts.
Batts, Sasser Jr. and Sasser III told detectives James' behavior had become problematic over time, saying that he tried harming himself multiple times and that James could hear voices telling him to kill people.
The family also told detectives that Sasser III woke up during the night of Jan. 27 and saw James standing over the top of Batts with a knife. Sasser III then “tackled” James and punched the boy several times in the head. The detective noted that Sasser III is about 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, while James was about 5-feet-3-inches tall and about 100 pounds.
The family said several times they had used a wooden paddle with a blue-taped handle to hit and punish James. James and Sasser III had been in multiple fights, but Sasser III denied ever hitting James on the back of the head with the paddle. The last time they fought was on Feb. 1, but the fight on Jan. 27 was a “blood bath,” according to Batts in court documents.
Sasser III said the fight on Jan. 27 "was worse," and told detectives he beat James "pretty good" after he found James standing over Batts with a knife. Batts told detectives that Sasser III had hit James with his fists but denied that he used the paddle at that time.
The detective division hasn’t been able to find records that show the family reported James' behavior to law enforcement or tried to get medical or psychiatric help for the boy.
On Feb. 6, detectives searched cellphones belonging to Batts, Sasser Jr. and Sasser III and found multiple videos of the family torturing James. Detectives also found that a good portion of the food in the house was locked away and James wouldn’t have access to it, according to documents.
In court on Thursday, Sasser III admitted to kicking the boy in the head 24 to 36 hours before he died. Boyer requested a higher bail for Batts, arguing she is more culpable in this case.