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Montana woman sentenced to life in prison for torturing and killing her 12-year-old grandson

BOZEMAN, Mont. (AP) — A Montana woman who pleaded guilty to torturing and killing her 12-year-old grandson more than three years ago has been sentenced to spend the rest of her life in prison.

Patricia Batts, 51, pleaded guilty in May to deliberate homicide in the death of James “Alex” Hurley on Feb. 3, 2020, in West Yellowstone in an agreement reached after prosecutors dropped efforts to seek the death penalty. She was sentenced Tuesday in District Court in Bozeman.

“This is a horrific case of child abuse. It was totally unnecessary, and it was done with malevolence,” District Judge John C. Brown said, according to NBC-Montana.

Batts also pleaded guilty to felony criminal child endangerment for failing to get medical help for Alex after he was fatally injured, and to witness tampering by trying to get family members to provide false statements to investigators, the Department of Justice has said. Batts received 10-year sentences for each of those charges.

Alex had been living with Batts and her husband, James Sasser Jr., 51, in West Yellowstone following the death of his father, who was Batts' son. An autopsy found Alex died of blunt force trauma to the back of his head. He also had bruises and wounds all over his body, court records said.

Gallatin County prosecutors alleged Alex was beaten and denied food. Investigators found videos of the boy being tortured and punished on cellphones seized from the family members.

Brown said the video evidence was the most “horrific” he had ever seen during his time on the bench. By the time of his death, Hurley was “emaciated,” “starved,” and had been subjected to “forced exercise” as well as routinely beaten, the Bozeman Daily Chronicle reported.

Batts created the environment that encouraged Alex’s abuse, prosecutors said.

Sasser was sentenced in March 2022 to 100 years in prison for his role in Alex's death. He pleaded guilty to deliberate homicide, child endangerment and tampering with a witness. At sentencing, he acknowledged he failed to protect Alex.

Two children belonging to Sasser and Batts were also charged in the case.

Their 14-year-old son was charged in youth court and acknowledged causing the injuries that likely led to Alex's death. Brown, acting as a Youth Court judge, sentenced him to juvenile detention until he reaches age 18, followed by seven years on probation. The couple's daughter was sentenced to probation for her role.

Batts has been jailed since her arrest just over a week after Alex died.