Today, I have several recent updates for you on the tragic case of 12-year-old James Alexander Hurley, better known as Alex to his family and friends, who was allegedly murdered by his grandparents and teenage uncle on or about February 3, 2020.
As you may remember from my prior coverage on Alex’s case, he was found dead under suspicious circumstances in his grandparents’ home in West Yellowstone, Montana. After numerous videos were discovered of Alex being tortured and abused, in addition to other evidence from the family’s cell phones and inside their home, four people were charged in connection to his death.
Patricia Batts (48, Alex’s paternal grandmother), James Sasser Jr. (47, Patricia’s husband), and James Sasser III (14, the couple’s son and Alex’s uncle), have been charged with felony deliberate homicide by accountability. 18-year-old Gage Roush, a friend of the family, has been charged with felony assault of a minor.
Alex was living with his grandparents after the death of his father, Tommy Tate, in early 2018, due to infections that resulted from his partial paralyzation in an earlier ATV accident. Sasser Jr. reportedly told detectives that Alex’s mother, Alicia Davis, signed paperwork giving Patricia legal guardianship over Alex, although he admitted he had never seen the actual paperwork. Court documents also show that Patricia and her husband began receiving Tommy’s Social Security benefits after their son’s death; Alex, detectives say, was entitled to that money, which amounted to $725 a month. Patricia told police the money was used “for bills.”
Ladies and gentlemen, I believe we have the seed of a motive there. I highly doubt these people took Alex in out of any sense of love or kinship, and it certainly wasn’t out of the kindness of their hearts, based on the allegations against them. This little boy died at the hands of family members who were (allegedly) only interested in the money they would receive as long as he lived with them.
Court documents filed in early March reveal an utterly disgusting detail that was previously unreported. Alex’s aunt, 18-year-old Madison Sasser, who also lived in the home, reportedly told her boyfriend via text message that Alex was like “a piece of shit off of my fucking shoe” and that she wanted the little boy to “go and die in the woods.”
Friendly reminder: this woman, the product of her mother’s narcissistic (possibly psychopathic) child-rearing methods, faces no charges and roams free among the citizens of Montana, you guys. Isn’t that awesome?!
Another horrific detail disclosed in the documents is that a neighbor claimed to witness a screaming Alex trying to run away from the house “as fast as he could” in December only to be caught by Patricia and Madison, who restrained him until Sasser III caught up. The neighbor said that Sasser III dragged Alex back to the house, punching the child repeatedly in the face as Patricia and Madison looked on, doing nothing to stop the beating.
The court documents reveal that Kevin Flanagan, the school superintendent of West Yellowstone, told investigators that Alex had behavioral problems often seen in children with severe ADHD, but that his issues seemed to improve during the school year Alex attended. Patricia had told police she pulled Alex out of school in September of 2019 after he “groped” a female student. Mr. Flanagan told police he was not aware of any issues that would cause Alex to be pulled from school, including any type of sexual assault like his grandmother alleged had occurred.
On Thursday, March 5, 2020, 14-year-old James Sasser III appeared in Gallatin County District Court via video conference and pleaded not guilty to the charge of felony deliberate homicide. He was represented by attorney Annie DeWolf. He remains incarcerated at the Yellowstone Youth Services Center in Billings; his bail is set at $500,000. At his next court appearance, scheduled for July 7, the determination will be made as to whether he will be tried as an adult.
Also on March 5, Gallatin County prosecutors filed additional charges against Patricia, including kidnapping, child endangerment, and strangulation. Court documents indicate that Patricia kept Alex inside her home and refused to take him for medical treatment prior to his death. They also state that she choked him in the days before he died, an allegation police say is backed up by video taken by the family.
In a video dated January 10, 2020, detectives observed a “large man” hitting Alex, who was sitting with his back against the inside of the family’s garage door, his knees bent. According to police, in the video, the large male “forcefully tapped” Alex multiple times with a wooden paddle and with his hands. Court documents state that Alex appeared to be in pain and afraid of the man.
After Gage Roush made a comment defending the family on the Gallatin County Sheriff’s Facebook post about the Sassers’ arrest, clothing he wore in photos on his Facebook profile was compared to the clothing worn by the man in the January 10 video, which included waterproof pants with a white logo on the knee. The clothing appeared to match, and this, in addition to James Sasser III identifying Gage as the man in the video, led to Gage’s arrest.
Gage initially denied abusing Alex until police showed him the video, at which time he confessed that he was the man in the video hitting the boy.
Gage told police that he grew up with the Sasser family, spent a lot of time at their home, and even sometimes referred to Patricia and James Jr. as “mom and dad.” He also said that he showed Alex how to perform “wall sits,” which, in addition to jumping jacks, were frequently used as punishment against the 12-year-old boy. He told police that he was abused as a child, and that his parents disciplined him with wall sits; he admitted that he was the one who taught Patricia how to punish Alex in this manner about a month before Alex’s death. Gage said he witnessed Patricia forcing Alex to do wall sits for approximately 45 minutes on at least two occasions.
When speaking with police, Gage told them he agreed that hitting and forcing Alex, who he knew was 12 years old, to do wall sits was abuse. He said he “regretted everything” and wished he could tell Alex he was “sorry.” Gage weighed about 250 pounds at the time the video was made; Alex weighed approximately 103 pounds.
On Tuesday, March 10, 2020, Gage pleaded not guilty in Gallatin County District Court. His attorney, Kirsten Mull Core, was present. Gage’s bail was set at $50,000, and a status hearing was scheduled for April 21.
Click here for my future/ongoing coverage of Alex’s case.
Sources: KPVI, Wikipedia, NBC Montana, Crime Online, Idaho State Journal, Billings Gazette