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Man sentenced to 100 years in grandson’s beating death

  • BOZEMAN DAILY CHRONICLE / AP
                                James Sasser Jr. cries as he gives an apology to District Court Judge John Brown for his role in the murder of Alex Hurley in Bozeman, Mont. Next to Sasser is his attorney, Colin Stephens.

    BOZEMAN DAILY CHRONICLE / AP

    James Sasser Jr. cries as he gives an apology to District Court Judge John Brown for his role in the murder of Alex Hurley in Bozeman, Mont. Next to Sasser is his attorney, Colin Stephens.

BOZEMAN, Mont. >> A Montana man was sentenced Friday to 100 years in prison for his role in the beating death of his 12-year-old grandson in February 2020.

James Sasser Jr., of West Yellowstone, had earlier pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide, child endangerment and tampering with a witness.

“I should have been a protector. I wasn’t. I failed,” Sasser said during the sentencing hearing. “I failed my kids, all of them. Their lives are destroyed, (Alex’s mother’s) life is destroyed … I deserve whatever you do.”

Prosecutors have depicted Patricia Batts — Sasser’s wife and Alex’s grandmother — as the leader of the abuse, but Deputy Gallatin County Attorney Bjorn Boyer said that does not absolve Sasser of responsibility.

Boyer played nine video and audio recordings the family made of their physical and verbal abuse of the boy, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported. An investigation found the boy was denied food.

Defense attorney Colin M. Stephens of Missoula said Sasser wanted to leave his marriage, but that Batts threatened he would never see his children again. Stephens said Batts lied to Sasser, saying Alex was being violent to the family.

Alex had been living with his grandparents for about two years and had been taken out of school about five months before he died, investigators said. An autopsy found he died of blunt force trauma to his head.

Investigators found evidence indicating Hurley’s grandparents and his then-14-year-old uncle regularly abused him, including beating him with a wooden paddle and locking up food.

The 14-year-old acknowledged kicking Hurley in the head multiple times in the 24 to 36 hours before his death, court records said. He pleaded true in Youth Court to deliberate homicide. The teen was sentenced to a juvenile detention facility until he turns 18. He will be on probation until he’s 25.

Batts has pleaded not guilty to deliberate homicide, aggravated kidnapping, criminal child endangerment and strangulation of a partner or family member. Her trial is scheduled to start in May.

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