A 12-year-old Montana boy was viciously beaten, starved, and “tortured” to death, allegedly at the hands of his grandparents and teen uncle who recorded the abuse on cell phones, according to court documents.
James Sasser Jr., 47, Patricia Batts, 48, and the victim’s 14-year-old teen uncle are now facing felony deliberate homicide charges in the death of James Alex Hurley after the young boy was found beaten to death in early February, according to the Bozeman Daily Chronicle.
A Gallatin County Sheriff’s deputy was called to the home Feb. 3 after Hurley had died. The deputy believed the 12-year-old boy’s death was suspicious after wounds and contusions were found all over his body, according to a criminal complaint obtained by Oxygen.com.
The investigation into the boy’s death uncovered a disturbing pattern of alleged abuse — often documented by his family members, with videos allegedly discovered on all three of the suspects' phones.
In one video, Batts can allegedly be seen choking and slapping Hurley into a wall. In another, the boy was allegedly mocked after the grandfather forbade him from using the restroom, investigators said.
The videos also showed Hurley being forced to do jumping jacks while holding his buttocks as he cried, holding his head as he rocked back and forth and moaned, or being forced to hold his hands above his head as he shook and cried, the complaint claims.
In one video after Hurley complained that his head hurt, Batts allegedly told him, “Who cares?”
The teen uncle told investigators that he had made a paddle out of wood with a blue taped handle that he used to beat Hurley, often on the buttocks, according to the complaint. Investigators said at the time of Hurley’s death he had what “appeared to be severe” bruising on his buttocks.
Detectives also said they found a large gash on the back of Hurley’s head that “would be very difficult to self-inflict.”
A state medical examiner later preliminarily said he believed Hurley had died of “blunt force trauma to the back of the head” after conducting an autopsy on the boy’s body, but wanted to wait for the toxicology reports before giving his final opinion.
During a search of the home, investigators say they found evidence that “very large amounts of blood” had previously been cleaned up.
Batts and Sasser Jr. allegedly told investigators that Hurley and the teen uncle had an altercation with one another on the night of the Super Bowl, according to the complaint.
The teen had struck Hurley with the paddle but denied that it had been on the head, Batts allegedly told detectives.
Search history on the teen uncle’s phone showed that on the night of Feb. 2, he searched “what are the symptoms of brain injury,” “symptoms of sleep deprivation,” and “how to tell if someone has a concussion,” authorities said.
Batts also claimed Hurley slept on the floor of the living room that night, “moaning” throughout, investigators said. By the morning, the boy was dead.
All three family members told authorities that Hurley had complained of hearing voices and said in the week before he died, the teen uncle once woke up to find Hurley holding a knife over Batts. The uncle told investigators he attacked Hurley and beat him up “pretty good” after discovering him that night in an attempt to prevent him from hurting anyone, according to the complaint.
Hurley reportedly went to live with the family about two years ago. His mother had sent him to live with his father, but his father died a short time later, so Hurley moved in with his grandparents.
Authorities also allegedly found videos showing Hurley about two years ago that showed the boy looking “healthy and well fed,” but said in the final videos Hurley looked “emaciated.”
The family allegedly locked up food in the home to prevent Hurley from getting access to it, according to the complaint.
Sasser Jr. is being held on a $500,000 bail, while Batts’ bail has been set at $750,000.
The teen uncle, who is being held at the Yellowstone Youth Services Center, is being held on a $500,000 bail, the local paper reports.
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